Bullshit Your Way Through a First Draft

After talking about second drafts last week, let’s dive into first drafts! We all know the whole deal about how first drafts will always be shitty[1], right? That’s writer 101. If you don’t believe that, then I don’t know what to tell you. Don’t get into writing. :)

But that doesn’t stop us from questioning what we’re writing. Sometimes when we allow ourselves to “write shitty,” we’re focused on being okay if a sentence sucks or is unclear and we move on, knowing that either it’ll get fixed or cut in revision. But when it comes to ideas that take a lot of words — 500, 1000, 2500, whatever — there’s a sense of commitment that we believe we’re creating in putting that work in.

And then we start questioning that commitment. “What if this idea sucks?”

In this first draft I’m working on, I had that thought a few times. “What if presenting the setting as vignettes totally missing the shit out of this?” “What if these rules totally suck?” “What if…” all over the place.

Part of the HK-TK experiment was to make myself write in spite of that feeling. The game, as I assumed and found out in the first playtest, is broken as fuck (which I still need to blog about). But if that stops the writing process, then writing would never get done. I wouldn’t have found out what does work, why some things don’t, and build off of that.

Which is why I’m writing this. You need to bullshit your way through that first draft. You need to accept that some of the ideas that you feel like you’re committing to will be wrong, but you need to write it because you won’t know which will be wrong, and you won’t know why some things work and some things won’t. Be bold; press on and be willing to bullshit.

Because that’s what every writer does. It just doesn’t look like total bullshit because of revision, peer review, beta readers, editing, all that work. But I assure you, a first draft is born of bullshit.

How do you bullshit? When you come to a point in your writing where you need to make a decision, just make one. Then write on from there, until you need to make another decision, and just make that one as well. Keep going. Don’t pause to muse on one and turn it into a catalyst of procrastination. To quote the brilliant Kit La Touche: “The beautiful thing about making decisions is that, once you’ve made them, you can evaluate them, and change them if need be. if you never make them, then you can’t do that.”

– Ryan

Oh, and if you want to know more about the bullshit process that is writing (and I say that with love, else I would not keep doing this), you should devour the shit out of Chuck Wendig’s blog & books on writing. But I’m going to assume you’re doing that already. :)

[1] One of my favorite bits about this comes from Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird, her chapter on Shitty First Drafts. My magazine writing teacher years ago had us read this, which caused me to get the book.


One Response to Bullshit Your Way Through a First Draft

  1. RM says:

    I’ve actually found my best trick to turning off my internal critic is writing a first draft when I’m exhausted. :-P I’m too sleepy to criticize myself and I just get through it, then come back the next day, well-rested, to do revisions.