Guest Post: Required – The Crappy First Draft

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Many professors and writers I spoke with on this subject, and their numbers are too great to list here, all recommend the same thing: Write a draft, correct it, consider correcting it again, turn it in.
Did you see those action items in the middle? Write a draft first. Know that it is a draft, feel that it is a draft.
Be the draft.
Draft means the work is not finished, it is not ready for turn in. It is crummy. A draft is fine piece of writing that is not ready for its close up. A draft gives you job security; you now have something to correct, review and read out loud.
Some writers want their product to be perfect the first time out. We get impatient, even with our own thoughts, certainly with our creative process. Getting it right takes so much time! The best advice, is to get comfortable with writing drafts, bad drafts, crappy drafts and you’ll discover how your writing will actually improve. Why? Because when you give yourself permission to write a really crappy first draft, you simultaneously discard perfectionism and brain cramping and give yourself permission to explore and improve.
When you consider everything else involved with dragging a manuscript to the publishing finish line, the draft is the best part. Drafts are fun, divergent, exciting, pointless and filled with authentic writing. Enjoy the process of bringing a novel, report or idea to life. This is the fun of writing, as you suspected, everything else is revision, not so much fun.
All papers for school, business, grants, even the family holiday newsletter should, at the very least, have two versions. (If you want to succeed in business without really trying, review emails at least once before sending.) A paper should have three phases of evolution, draft, corrected, final.
That draft? It will be the most fun you’ll have.
About the Guest Author: Catharine Bramkamp holds two degrees in English, published hundreds of newspaper and magazines articles, a handful of novels and two essays in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. She is an adjunct professor of writing for two colleges and is a successful writing coach. Visit her at
Meryl’s Young’un and the Sloppy Copy Experience

Meryl here. This article is perfect timing for my almost seven-year-old son. His school has a PTA-run program called “Bronco Press.” It gives children the chance to write and illustrate a story. I asked him if he wanted to do it. He did and wanted to get right to work. So he dictates his story while I type it. Here’s the first part:

I am a bird. I am black, white and a little tan in the middle. I can fly real high. I can swoop with my tail. And I can fly down and go up really fast like whooooooosh! I can fly really fast and slow, too.
My landings are real good. I can peck really good.

He says he can’t think of anything else. So I tell him to tell me a story involving this bird he described. Take the bird on an adventure. He continues:

Then one day when I went flying I crashed into a jungle because I saw a lion. I didn’t get hurt. The lion was coming towards me and said, “Roar.” He wanted to make friends with me. Then we heard a big roar from a tiger that scared them.
I tried to whoosh by to get the tiger confused. Then the tiger was about to eat me. But lion came by and pushed me out of the way. The lion saved me. Lion pushed away the tiger and we never saw the tiger again.

Again, he tells me he’s done with the story. I explain to him that it’s a good first draft. (I found out from his teacher they call it “Sloppy copy” — I love that!) And we will review it again another day. He wants to be done, finished, wash his hands of it. (My older son does this, too — works on a project for five minutes and declares finito.)
I asked him, “You know I’m a writer?”
He nods.
“Remember what I taught your class (career day)? That we need to brainstorm and keep editing our stories. The first one is never the final story.” I said.
The stubborn little guy pushes back. We’ll see if I can get him to revise it. But hey, he’s only in first grade. Still, they teach them to do a draft before a final at this age. Next time we discuss the story, I’ll remind him that this is a “sloppy copy.” I just hope he doesn’t take offense to that or think I expect perfection (of course not!).
Don’t you think writing is rewriting? How do you handle the first draft? What happens after the first draft?

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6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Required – The Crappy First Draft”

  1. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was this: The first draft is supposed to be pure green dreck. Sloppy copy … pure green dreck … crappy first draft—whatever you call it, that first bad attempt is the first step to great writing.
    .-= Lillie Ammann’s blog …The End of Publishing? =-.

  2. Trying to get the draft perfect is the surest way to slow down (and sometimes kill) your writing. Write as the words flow down from your brain. Get the ideas down and you can re-work them.
    I am very bad at this. One of the primary reasons I shudder at the thought of doing NaNoWriMo.
    .-= George Angus’s blog …What’s Your Writing Background? =-.

  3. @George, yes, NaNoWriMo leads to crappy copy for many… but at least, they have it all down and then they can go clean it up. I think some people struggle to just write and do a whole book. This is where Nano can help.


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