Why Writing Crappy First Drafts is Terrible Advice

How to Finish Your Manuscript the First Time You Write It

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Stop writing crappy first drafts

Hemingway supposedly started us on this kick to write shitty first drafts. It’s permission for the god of writing himself to write with reckless abandon. I’ll admit, I was a firm believer in this methodology until recently.

With the recent explosion in the success of indie publishing, there’s less of a team around the author. Indie authors must be an entire publishing house, outsourcing where they must. The timelines are tighter, because we need to publish more often to sell more books.

Tighter publishing schedules require tighter manuscripts.

Writing tighter is a mental shift. Whether your a plotter or a pantser, you can follow this method. It will help you get your book to market faster. If you want to increase your writing chops quickly, here’s a post I wrote about mobile short stories:

Yes, I’ll show you how to write a tighter first draft, but this draft will include many revisions as you go. Instead of waiting until the end of the manuscript, you’ll edit as you write.

Writing crappy first drafts is a terrible idea, because it trains you to be sloppy with your work. I know of a popular author who puts brackets [] around certain passages where he’s not sure what to write. His first drafts are very short, and filled with missing passages.

Later, he returns and fills in the missing parts during subsequent drafts. Why not take care of those details the first time? Instead of beefing-up the novel by 3x during the editing process, this author could’ve taken the time to write one solid draft, ready for the editor.

This editing/writing leapfrog has been a godsend for me. I despise the editing process, It’s my version of being served broccoli, when all I want is ice cream. I look at revised manuscripts and dread the ground-zero approach to editing a finished novel only.

Think of this as writing leapfrog.

Here’s how you do this: Let’s say you have a writing goal of 2,000 words per day. Either you follow an outline and write those 2,000 words from your notes, or you keep a mental framework of where you’d like the story to go and you pants your way through those 2,000 words.

On the second day, you’ll start with the 2,000 words you wrote the day prior, reading the pages aloud, and editing the hell out of them all the way through. Next, you write your 2,000 words for the day and you’re done. The following day you move to the next 2,000 words, edit and write.

Once you write the last 2,000 words you have little to re-write before your manuscript goes to the editor. Instead of editing an entire novel at the end, you can get started writing your next book.

Some people love the editing stage. For them, I say good luck. But for the other 90% of writers, leapfrogging might be the solution.

Another added benefit to leagfrog writing: your voice will be more consistent. Some people don’t write everyday. When they leapfrog, they’ll read the passage they wrote over the previous session, then they’ll sit down to write.

If you wait until the end of your first draft to start writing, there’s a higher chance you’ll lose consistency in your writing voice throughout the piece. But if you re-read what you wrote a day or three earlier, the words are fresh in your mind. The writer’s voice will follow.

When you don’t give yourself permission to write shitty first drafts, you train your mind to be more concise in its thinking. You’ll get the story out faster, with fewer edits in final drafts, and you’ll be less-likely to write yourself into a corner, given that you just read what you wrote earlier.

Hemingway was a genius, but he was a relentless re-writer. There can only be one Hemingway and one you, so you might as well be more efficient while you’re alive. Maybe the leapfrog method will help you write more books than Earnest.

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