Shoveling Sand (or Writing First Drafts)

I made it out in one piece! By that I mean I finished two first drafts in the past week.

When I sit down to write a first draft, I become the most busy person in the world. My mind jumps from forgot to pay that bill to maybe I should check my email to I need to finish googling (insert unimportant topic) to I love dog videos to ice cream.

I don’t usually get distracted this easily. 99-percent of the time I’m an overachiever. I’m on time, I get things done early, and I focus my attention fully on the task in front of me.

But when I write the first draft of a story? Forget it! I turn into a restless, procrastinating monster. Why? Because I hate writing first drafts. My first drafts are messy and chaotic. This make me crazy because I’m a (cover your ears!) perfectionist.

I’ve been called a perfectionist more than once. Heck, I know I’m a perfectionist. I’m hard on myself. Like most writers, I’m my own worst critic. It doesn’t help that I spend my days editing. Not only do I write as part of my day job, but I edit even more. I usually don my editor’s hat for a majority of the day.

These skills are invaluable when I revise, but they are hard to turn off when I draft. I’m trained to constantly look for inconsistencies, to ask myself how I can make something sound better. So when I sit down to write a first draft, my fingers and my brain play a football game of sorts—writer versus editor. The players drive the ball all over the field and refs throw penalties every three or four plays.

I LOVE revising my stories. It’s my favorite part of the writing process. I take my stories to the next level with each revision, often focusing on different craft elements each time. But to revise, I must draft first. I dread it. The perfectionist in me wants to skip that step and get to the fun part—the tightening, cleaning up bit.

I find relief in the fact that I’m not alone in these feelings. Many writers struggle through the first draft. And many of them have found gold after they finish and revise. Shannon Hale said it perfectly on Twitter:

YES! She said it perfectly. I think back to this tweet a lot. Mostly when I’m diving into a new story. Reminding myself that I’ll soon build castles out of plain old sand helps me to draft in one sitting. A first draft is the necessary first step in the journey to a polished manuscript.

Also, after writing first drafts I’ve been known to reward myself with food, an episode of House of Cards or Downton Abbey, or cozying up to a picture book. This sounds silly and juvenile, but it works for me. Rewards motivate me to finish.

So today I celebrate two more first drafts in my pocket. Two more drafts that I look forward to pruning and blossoming into vibrant stories. My next first draft will be as grueling as the last, but I’ll motivate myself by remembering the castles I’ve built before. Also, Cheez-its.


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