On Learning to Be Happy with Your Imperfect Draft

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by Meg Dowell

What is your reaction – or what do you perceive your reaction will be like – when you finally finish writing that first draft? Relieved? Sad? Ecstatic? Numb? All of the above?

Finishing a first draft of any major piece of writing is an emotional roller coaster. You probably expect to feel at least a little joyful. But what if you don’t? What if you finish writing, and you feel empty? Or scared? Or just generally dissatisfied with the work you’ve done? What does that mean? Why aren’t you happy?

There are a few reasons why you might not feel happy … yet. You could be in denial: it might take you a few days to realize you really are finished, and don’t technically have to open that file again if you don’t want to. You could just be so exhausted that emotions are temporarily lost to you. It happens.

But you might not be happy because you’re just not satisfied. You don’t feel like what you’ve just completed is your best work. Why celebrate – why be happy – when you’re probably going to have to rewrite half of your draft anyway? Since first drafts are always imperfect, there’s really no point in patting yourself on the back until you’re done for real … right?

Different writers have different opinions on this, but I’m confident in my claim that the first draft is the hardest part about writing anything. It’s miserable about 80 percent of the time, it’s confusing, you usually feel lost and unsure, and it can start to feel like you’ve been trying to write the same story for 20 years. It’s after that first draft when things get fun. You have a foundation to work off of. You get to fix things and change things and do what you’ve secretly always wanted to do – take a story that’s already been written and make it better; make it the way YOU want it to be.

The way I see it, being so hard on yourself for writing something imperfect is just a major waste of energy. Of COURSE what you’ve just written is unpublishable. That’s why it’s called a DRAFT. You are not always going to like what you have done. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of yourself for DOING something.

Hello! YOU WROTE A THING! You made the conscious decision to sit down, start writing something, and follow through with your goal of actually finishing it. You did one of the hardest things a writer has to do: complete an original draft of a story. It gets so much better from here. But that doesn’t mean you have to start revisions right now.

Take some time to celebrate and to BE HAPPY and proud of your accomplishment. Many writers have managed to complete first drafts: now you’re one of them. You wrote something that’s all your own. You didn’t give up. What you do from here is completely up to you. But never forget that every story starts out flawed. There are going to be some pretty bad paragraphs. You’re going to do a lot of head-shaking later.

That’s OK. It’s part of the deal. Write; hate what you’ve written; make it better. First comes the original draft. Cherish it. Now that your story is out of your head, you can help it develop and grow. That’s the best part. Just wait. You’re going to love what comes next.

And if you’re out there, reading this, disappointed because you haven’t finished your first draft yet – imagine how it’s going to feel when you DO finish. Pretty good, right? Now go take a walk. Come back. Keep writing. Write until you’re done. It’s going to be hard, and not always fun. But you’re going to be so glad you stuck with it.

 

 

 

Meg Dowell is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

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18 thoughts on “On Learning to Be Happy with Your Imperfect Draft”

  1. I’m the opposite! Once I’ve developed the story idea and characters, the book takes off. My characters lead the way, and I’m swept along for the ride. When the trip is over, I’m left to clean up their endless ramblings and make the story cohesive for readers. Revising and editing often take me longer than writing the first draft. It’s the most challenging part of the journey for me. Anyone else?

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  2. I finished my first draft a couple of months back. I felt stunned more than anything else. This is a marathon and I’m only half way around the course. For the first half I was energised, excited to be on the road. Now I’m tired and hurting and somebody put a hill in the road just around the corner. This blog has is a cool drink of water and a shout from the side that it’s still worth finishing the race. Thank you, it was just what I needed.

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