Making friends with the first draft

author smiling while writing at a desk
making friends with your shi**y first drafts

When I started getting serious about my writing, that is, serious about the publication of my work, I became increasingly more anxious around my process. I used to just write, easily, stream of consciousness style in my journals when the idea was just for fun, just for me. But when I considered reading my work aloud or trying to have it published, I found that the writing became somewhat stifled. I was anxious about seeing the words come out badly and having that confirm my fears that I couldn’t create art worthy of being published.

This was the start of ‘the writing blockage’ that hit me, showing up in a few specific forms. One way I would sabotage my writing, I would write and rewrite the same sentences over and over, convinced they didn’t sound right. I would look up specific words in the thesaurus, convinced I hadn’t found the right word and couldn’t move forward until it was on the page. I would also find myself looking at blank pages for hours, uncertain where to start. My production of new writing stopped. I sure that it was better to not write anything, than to just keep writing potentially useless words.

The thing that got me out of this writing funk was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and the concept of “shi**y first drafts”. This writing guide book was seriously enjoyable to read, and was highly compassionate in how the advice is relayed. I remember reading about this concept of allowing oneself to write whatever came out, even if it totally sucks and is unusable, just to get to the next step in the process. Retelling the story of my writing process is what helped me break my block. Instead of holding the pressure that every sentence, every paragraph that comes out must be polished, I gave myself permission to produce “shi**y first drafts”. My first draft was just for me and not the world. This made me learn to love the first draft as it is the draft of complete freedom. The editing…now that’s another story for another day.

Author: Yodassa Williams

Yodassa Williams is a powerful conjurer of black girl magic (70% Jedi, 30% Sith). A Jamaican American writer, speaker, and award winning performing storyteller, alumna of the VONA/Voices Travel Writing program and creator of the podcast ‘The Black Girl Magic Files’, Yodassa (Yoda) launched ‘Writers Emerging' in 2019, a wilderness writing retreat for women of color and non-binary people of color. In 2020, Yodassa's debut YA Fantasy, The Goddess Twins, will be published by Spark Press. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and currently resides in the Bay Area.