My novel’s first draft is crap, and that’s okay

As I mentioned in my last post, the first draft of my first novel is going well. Meaning, as far as progression of the word count.

As for the quality?
That’s a whole other thing.

I rewrote the opening three times, trying three different approaches with it, and it still feels weak. The inciting incident–a young man itching for adventure on a distant planet discovers that a droid his uncle’s farm just bought has a secret holographic message, a call for help, from a beautiful young woman, and the person she’s seeking help from may be an old hermit guy who lives not too far away, and… okay, I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s going to be so good!–still needs work, and it feels like the main character is being put through actions instead of having agency and making the actions happen, and…

You get the picture. Not stellar, to say the least. (But, ooo, hold on… Stellar Wars for the title? I’ve gotta write that down.)

But here’s the thing: That t’s not good is totally fine.

Would I like my writing to come out as good as it can be the first time I write it? Of course. That would be… well, gosh, a real time saver. I hit period at the end of the last sentence on the last page, and send it to the publisher who can bounce it directly into the queue for typesetting and publication because it’s absolutely perfect.

That, dear reader, never happens.

I mean… not technically “never”. I’ve heard Margaret Atwood often writes her first draft by hand and then converts it into a typed format and that’s her done and pretty much as it will appear in print.

But are you Margaret Atwood?
No, you’re not.
Unless you are, of course. And if that’s the case, kindly drop me a line so we can team up on a book. I’ve got a solid start on this wars in space idea.

Point being, assuming you’re not Margaret Atwood or the other minuscule number of professional writers who can effectively write their final draft when they finish their first draft, you’ve got to accept that your first draft may be so far from that that it could be, as the French say, “le garbahge.”


A garbage first draft is still a first draft. And a first draft of any quality is better than an incomplete first draft or nothing of a first draft at all. Because, you see, having a first draft gives you something to improve upon.

To look at it another way, throw a lump of clay on a pottery wheel and you’re not going to impress anyone. The lump of clay is your first draft, okay? It’s a misshapen pile of wet, bland, grey stuff.
But it gives you something to start with, something to mold into a shape–that’s editing it–and now you’re getting somewhere. And with enough time and patience (and effort and practice and talent never hurts), you can turn that one-time lump of clay into a quality piece of pottery (meaning a… well, a final draft, obviously… look, are you really not following this?).

So let your first draft be crap. Or a lump of clay. Or whatever else you want to picture it as, so long as it at least exists. Get through it even if it’s terrible, because no one needs to ever see the first draft except you, and you’re the one who’s then going to take that and work on it to make it better and better until it’s something you’re all right–nay, proud–that other people will finally see it.

… Nebula Wars?
Nope, not quite there.
Margaret, any ideas?