Ernest Hemingway…. you know, the grandfather of Mariel and Margaux Hemingway? Well, he was a writer, and one of the things he’s famous for saying about writing is that first drafts are shit.
I’ve never liked that.
First drafts may be unpolished, unreadable by (i.e. nonsensical to) others, and therefore unpublishable, but they’re not as worthless as shit (which to be fair, has some value under certain circumstances).
First drafts are a playground of ideas, of imagined characters and situations, problems and solutions, snippets of dialogue and strings of metaphors. They’re the fertile, roiling lava out of which the mountain of your book will be molded.
My roiling lava isn’t shit. It’s a hotbed of fantastic potential.
Plus, the first draft is the necessary groundwork upon which everything else is built. You can’t build on a pile of shit; stuff just sinks into it and gets stinky and spreads E. coli.
You can’t get to a readable, publishable draft without getting everything in your head down on paper first. And none of those initial playful ideas will sprout from the ends of your fingers fully-formed like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. It can and will and must morph like cloud bunnies into elephants as you’re writing. But if you believe everything you’re putting down on paper is shit, then that’s self-defeating, discouraging, and just plain not fun.
It’s fun to follow my stream of consciousness through the forests, over the rapids, and into the hidden lakes beyond the ridges where I would never see them from the main trail. Even if those streams never end up in the pages anyone else will ever see.
Because although I’m writing my story with the hope that someday someone else will read it and enjoy it, primarily I’m writing for myself. I’m writing a book that I enjoy writing, and that someday I’ll enjoy rereading.
Toni Morrison said that she started writing because she couldn’t find books that she wanted to read. Well, that’s what I’m doing too.
So, my first drafts are not worthless shit. They’re a vast networked root system, like mycelium, which will one day bloom into a sprawling beautiful new universe that couldn’t have been created by anyone but me.