• CL COX

First Drafts are Meant to be Bad

I'm a write-by-hand person first, then a typer. When I tell people this, I inevitably get strange looks. I even read a tweet once (from an author) who stated something along the lines of "saying you want to handwrite first is like saying you want to start a fire with two sticks." Strange looks. Strange tweets. Same difference.

But, really, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. Do what works for you. I do. For instance, I know if I sit at a computer and attempt to work on my story, I'll overthink every comma, period, and quotation mark, not to mention nearly every word. On the other hand, if I sit down with pen and paper (especially if I'm outside on a nice day), I get lost in the words. Sure, I scratch out and correct still, but it's a quick swipe or circle and then move on.

But, what does all that have to do with a bad first draft? Well, I discovered that I'm much more likely to allow myself the freedom to write a crappy first run-through when I'm handwriting. I let my creative juices loose and go with it, knowing I'm going to get to return to it later and clean it up---probably half a million times or so. But, it's important to get the story out first. When I'm typing, I don't allow myself that same luxury.

So, the bottom line is: do what works for you, and don't let anyone else tell you it's wrong.

I like what Randy Ingermanson says:

Craft: Permission to be Bad

Writing a first draft is hard. You have to create a group of interesting characters in an interesting storyworld, force them into conflict in scene after scene, and never let the story go flat.

For some writers, writing a first draft is also fun. They write with abandon, pushing out the words, getting the story down on paper. But the problem is that when these writers finish the novel and actually look at what they wrote, they usually find that the first draft is bad.

For other writers, writing a first draft is torture. They labor over every single sentence. They sweat the small stuff and the smaller stuff. And then when the story’s finally written, and they actually look at what they wrote, they usually find that the first draft is bad.

There’s a pattern here.

The First Draft is Usually Bad

I suppose a few lucky writers don’t write bad first drafts. But most writers do.

And that’s OK.

For most writers, a bad first draft is the necessary step to writing a fairly good second draft. Which is the necessary step to writing a pretty good third draft.

And eventually, after enough drafts, the story turns into a very good final draft.

Is It Bad to Be Bad On the First Draft?

No, it’s not bad. It’s uncomfortable. It’s discouraging. It can be downright debilitating.

But it’s normal.

If you just remember it’s normal, that may keep you from beating yourself up.

You have permission to write a bad first draft. You have permission to be awful. You have permission to write the worst drivel ever.

Because you can fix it in the next draft. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.

But you’ll never fix it unless you first write it.

So get it written, as the old slogan goes, and then get it right.

And you have permission to take as many drafts as you need to get it right.

  • This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

  • Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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