First Drafts Are Allowed to Be Shitty.

A lot of us never get started on our dream projects, because when we get ideas in our minds, they’re already perfect. We have a fantastic vision. But what if our writing doesn’t match that vision? What if the first sentence we write never lives up to our ambition?

Even the most experienced writers are plagued with this inertia and fear. I can’t say I’m particularly good at it, but over the years, I’ve come up with some ways to get myself working instead of stalling

Remind yourself that editing exists. Great stories and books weren’t written in one try. They went through plenty of edits and revisions before they got polished into what you read!

Learn to edit and revise better. A lot of us are frightened of editing because we think that we don’t edit as well as we can write. But editing, like writing, comes with practice. When you’re done with a piece, try to put some distance between you and the piece (especially if you’re not under a tight deadline) and then revisit it when you feel you can look at it objectively. 

I like printing it out and marking with a pen as I go over it. If worse comes to worst, you could always recruit a trustworthy friend to give it a quick glance. 

Have a “first draft and final draft” process. I told my students that the first draft is a rough version in which they can brainstorm ideas in any form. They could submit outlines, just unorganised ideas, first-person narratives of what they wanted to do in the final version. The first draft is where they were allowed to go wild. And they’d get full points as long as they submitted something. And that really let them loosen up and brainstorm ideas without feeling restricted. 

Embrace freewriting. This feeling of insecurity is the first step to a full-blown writer’s block! But understand it’s not the end of the world if you don’t immediately know how to start this perfect project of yours. Natalie Goldberg has a few great ideas and prompts for how to freewrite in her book Writing Down the Bones. I’d highly recommend it.

Don’t talk about your project until you’re done. Especially for creative projects, I’ve noticed writers could build anticipation and excitement by not talking about their project until they had something to show the world. This works for some. 

Or… Talk about your project until you’re done. Some people work better when they have an accountability partner. Or when they’ve told someone they’re working on something. If you’re one of them, this might be for you.

Read “Shitty First Drafts.” And reread it if you get stuck again. I can’t emphasise how much it helped my students every time. Just putting things into perspective had such a positive effect on them. 

Admit that some ideas are bigger than you. In an interview, Stephen King spoke about the fact that he sets projects aside that he feels he’s not yet equipped to tackle. Sometimes you need more research and skills to prepare to deal with this project. And that’s okay. I put this tip last because this should never be your first resort — it’s more of a self-awareness thing that should propel you to work on it.

I hope these tips help you gather the courage to tackle your big projects! Good luck, and keep me posted! 

Written by Neeru Nagarajan, a Pushcart-nominated writer, and a writer at emdash. She’s a recent MFA graduate and taught academic and creative writing at Bowling Green State University (Ohio). She’s @poonaikaari on Twitter.