First Drafts

I know this is something I’ve talked about before, but I just want to re-emphasize the need to be kind to yourself when it comes to judging first drafts — especially if it is one of your first projects.  It’s easy to discourage yourself, right at the time when you should be proud of finishing a piece.  I often talk to folks who compare their first drafts to their favorite authors’ work, or to the books that inspired them to start writing in the first place. Remember, you’re comparing the white-hot unrefined layout of thoughts that tumbled onto the page, with no editing, to a book that was self-edited, possibly workshopped or shared with critique partners, got editorial input from an agent and/or editor, and had a copyeditor check it for mistakes.  The first draft is the draft for you, where you figure out the story and the characters and let your imagination out to play.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.

If it’s one of your first projects, or your first efforts in a new form or genre, you need to cut yourself even more slack.  If you were deciding to take up painting, you wouldn’t walk into a class for the first time and expect to be able to point like Rembrandt or Monet without ever having picked up a brush before.  Even if you’ve stenciled a painted border onto your wall at home, or splattered paint onto clothes.  If you want to learn to paint, you learn brush technique, you copy the masters, you practice — and every time, you get better at your art.  The same goes for writing.  You get stronger by doing it, by reading and studying technique as used by other authors.  If you get stuck on the flaws in your first draft and never let yourself finish things, learn how to polish them, or move onto new challenges, you can’t grow as an artist, and you won’t be able to truly develop your skill and talent.

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