Thoughts on Writing: Shitty First Drafts

I don’t know about you but many people seem to think that accomplished writers are able to sit down at their desks and immediately start writing in beautiful, fully formed sentences and paragraphs. In reality, though, nothing could be farther from the truth. As Anne Lamott points out in her seminal book on writing, Bird by Bird, almost all writers start with a rough, unpolished, shitty first draft. In fact, such a shitty first draft is often the reason they are able to put down any words in the first place. A shitty first draft allows the writer to jot down a stream of thought without being interrupted by long periods of refinement and without thinking about what potential readers, colleagues, or critics might think of the text.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Knowing that you don’t need to get it right at the first try gives you an immense amount of freedom. It permits you to write freely and without pressure. The shitty first draft is for you and you only. No one is going to see it, so don’t worry about your writing style or if your ideas are good enough yet — just write.

Moreover, trying to get it all right at the first try is not only cumbersome, but it is also quite unlikely that your first draft will ever be the best version you will come up with, anyway. Or, in the immortal words of Ernest Hemingway:

The first draft of anything is shit.

So why waste your precious time by laboriously crafting a “perfect” first version of your text when you will need to edit and refine it later, anyway?

So if you only take one piece of advice out of my little series on writing, let it be this: Silence your internal critic early in the process and give yourself permission to write shitty first drafts. This will allow you to write more freely and to get your thoughts out of your head while they are still fresh. Evaluation and revision are for later stages when you have produced enough material to work with. But until then, a shitty first draft is exactly what you need.


17 Webmentions

Photo of Saskia747
Great writing about writing! Keep up the good work!!
Photo of Matthias Ott
Matthias Ott
I think you're right and I like “Thoughts on Writing” a lot – so I just changed it! Danke, Jens! ????;