It's your first draft, right?

by Beth McAuley

Published at 2010-08-12

When a writer shows her/his work to someone and asks them to read it, there is the inevitable dread that she/he might hear those infamous words, “This is your first draft, right?”
This phrase can be said in two distinct ways. If the person reading your work looks at you and grimaces as she says, “It’s your FIRST draft, RIGHT?” what she really saying is, “This is your first draft, right? Because it really isn’t great and needs … well … a few more drafts.”
This comment can be crushing. It can wipe out even the hardiest of egos. It can drive a writer to her bed, collapsed in tears.
The second is said in a way that supports the writer’s first efforts: “It’s your first draft, right?” As in: “It’s your first draft and it won’t be perfect and the fact that you’ve gotten it down on paper is amazing. Well done!”
As an editor, I admire first drafts. I know that the hardest thing for a writer to do is to get that first draft down on paper. I’ve been there myself, having to write blogs, for example, or my master’s thesis. It is a tremendous challenge and one that writers face every time they sit down to begin their manuscripts – whether it be a novel, an academic book, a journal article, or a business report. And it is a challenge that is repeated every day until the project is completed.
In the Writers Support Group that Nadine and I facilitate, we can see how each writer has her own style in approaching that first draft. We have had insightful discussions about the hurdles and barriers that pop up as they contemplate their projects and prepare to write. Their individual styles are designed to help alleviate the fear and insecurity that so often creep in before the writing begins, to help get pen on paper, or hands on keyboard.
No matter what their approach, the writers in our group are creating their first drafts. So when we say to them, “It’s your first draft, right?” we mean it in the sense of “that’s amazing.” It’s amazing because the first draft is in hand and from this can come the second draft.
As Anne Lamott writes in her 1994 book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, “Just get it down on paper, because there may be something  great in those six crazy pages … something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there is no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages" (p. 23).
If you need help, check out our Writers Support Package. It might be just what you need to get started on those first six pages and the beginning of that courageous first draft.