Piling on

Susan started it. Jen shoveled more onto the pile. They’ve already made the point more brilliantly than I ever could, but I’d like to weigh in with a few of my own thoughts on the writing of a crappy first draft.

I should probably start with a confession: When it comes to, well, fecal matter, I’m a
bit anal-retentive. If I catch a whiff of baby diaper, I feel faint. If my flip-flops squish into doggy-do, I go into a full-on swoon. Yeah, I’m persnickety like that. And until recently, I couldn’t bear the thought of a stinky first draft, either. Go on to the next word/phrase/page/chapter without first making the previous ones presentable? It offends the sensibilities, don’t you know. 

In the past three weeks, I’ve written roughly 48 pages, which is way, way more than I ever produced in that amount of time in the past! It’s also a huge pile of malodorous manure. I swan, this new material stinks worse than an overflowing outhouse on a hot summer day. No matter, I’m just holding my nose and letting ‘er rip.


How did that happen? (You did ask, didn’t you? Or maybe I was just reading your mind.) Well, thanks to my writing mentors (lucky me, I have many), I’ve finally learning this about first drafts: they can and should be crap!

I’m resisting the urge to produce deodorized, fluffed and polished first drafts. Oooh, that’s hard! Little by little, I’m extracting myself from the constipating clutches of my inner critic. I feel like I can breathe again! I’m hoping that the poopy stuff I’m writing now will someday grow into a meaningful and well-written story. And in the meantime, I’ll just keep reminding myself that it’ll happen much sooner if I allow that first draft to flow, unrestricted and unedited.

Image credit


  1. Love that picture!

    Go Melodye! I’m a perfectionist and a frustrated editor at heart. It bothers me when I know my writing is…not as good as it could be.

    But you know what? Even the so-called polished drafts I like to produce still need revision. Tons of it. So whom do I think I’m fooling? My first drafts that take so painstakingly long are as cr*ppy as drafts that come out effortlessly and quickly.

    We perfectionists/frustrated editors will just have to hold our noses with one hand and type cr*p with the other.

    • You’re so right…we waste a lot of time spinning our wheels.

      I love the imagery in your last sentence! We need a third hand, though, don’t we, to reach out to another when we’re feeling frustrated.

    • I struggle with this problem, too. I wish I could write up a quick first draft, then go back and revise, but I have discovered why the technique of chronic revising works for me. Check out my blog. We are both in the same place. 🙂

      • I think it helps a great deal when we talk among ourselves about what works and what doesn’t. Maybe it varies from writer to writer (or project to project), but it’s amazing what we can learn from one another, if/when we’re willing to listen. Ahem. I think I was a slow learner/selective listener on this one.

  2. You just put your finger on my biggest writing issue for the coming year! At Armadillo Con in Austin last month, NYT best-selling author John Szalci told participants, “I dare you to write something that sucks.” I took that motto and molded it a bit to fit my problem and those I see in my critique group: “I dare you to bring something half-baked to critique!” Now I’m daring myself AND you (because it’s fun!) to roll with that momentum and finish that crappy rough draft! It’s almost a dead certainty that if we finish our CRDs, we’ll finish our books. Because I know we’re not going to let it sit there, stinking up the place.

    • LOL! I think you’re 100% right about that. Yes, let’s roll with the momentum ’til we reach The End. I can’t imagine a more amazing feeling than being able to type those words on the last page, can you?

  3. Yay for acomplishing so much! I’m trying to do the crappy first draft too … it’s so hard to not rewrite over and over at the beginning and never get to the end.

  4. First drafts should absolutely be a total pile of steamy diaper offerings. And it’s out of that steamy, smelly pile of droppings that wondrous beauty, such as your piece, can emerge. 🙂

    You can do it, Melodye! Just let yourself go, give in to the process and let those words fly. I have every confidence that you are going to spit and polish your work into something truly special. Good luck!!!!

  5. It’s tricky NOT to aim for perfection when it comes to the first draft. But, that’s why I always thought it was called a first draft. It gives you something to work with so you can fluff and polish your story to perfection. Good luck!

    • “That’s why I always thought it was called a first draft.”

      *headsmack* Thanks for pointing out the obvious, which was clearly not so obvious to me. LOL!!! I’m going to type this into notepad and put it on my monitor. Thank you!

  6. LOL, around here you have to watch out for those cow patties! Your post reminded me of our answer to the ‘running of the bulls.’ Every June in Brattleboro we have the ‘Strolling of the Heifers.’

    Strolling of the Heifers

    I’m sorta weird as I have never called my first draft, a first draft, it’s always been my ‘sloppy copy.’ For some reason sloppy copy makes me feel better if it’s full of crap than calling it a first draft would. To me a first draft sounds more formal and thus should be polished more than my smelly old sloppy copy.

  7. That’s so cool. What a great next step!

    I love the image Anne Lamott gives about putting your inner critic in a jar and tightening the lid and watching him squirm around inside, mouth running but words no longer coming out.

    So how far into the manuscript are you? I’m definitely proud of you, friend.

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