There are a lot of things I wish I’d known when I was starting out as a writer, but the most important one is this: Everyone’s first drafts suck. EVERYONE’S. If a writer tells you they can turn out flawless first drafts, they are delusional or dishonest or both.
But even though I’m well aware of this truth this now, I have to repeat it like a mantra to myself every time I start something new. It’s always going to suck. It’s okay to suck. First drafts are just the raw material you need to begin the real work of writing, which happens during the revision process. Every published book you’ve ever read has gone through so many revisions the author probably lost track (I have no idea how many revisions Temper has been through at this point; at least 10).
Many of you may have already heard the famous quote from Ira Glass, about the gap between creative work and taste for beginner artists. If not (or if you need a reminder, like I often do), here you go:
Temper is the book that finally started to close this gap for me. It’s my second completed novel, but my path to it was littered with the corpses of many abandoned projects – all of which sucked in various ways, and taught me something I couldn’t have learned without attempting to write them.
Not that Temper is perfect – no work of art is ever perfect (except maybe Hamilton) – but it’s the book I set out to write. It meets my standards. It sure as hell didn’t in the first draft, though – the first couple of drafts. And now I’m starting my second novel (after abandoning several more projects…) and you know what, right now it sucks just as bad as the first draft of Temper did.
I love Ira’s advice, but I think it’s incomplete. You can never close the taste gap for good. You have to traverse it every single time, fight your way through the hard parts. I wish I could tell you there’s a shortcut, but there isn’t. Even when you’re experienced and have a couple of books under your belt, that gap is always going to exist between your initial output and your ambitions. Your book will suck, and that’s okay. Just keep revising it until it doesn’t.
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