Quest 13: Sh*tty First Drafts

Creative Questers
Quest 13: Sh*tty First Drafts
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Sh*tty First Drafts: Embracing Imperfection in Writing

In this episode of Creative Questers, hosts Stefka Spiegel and Christina Howell delve into the topic of “sh*tty first drafts” and discuss different approaches to writing and editing. They share personal experiences and insights on the importance of embracing imperfection in the initial stages of writing.

Key Takeaways:

1. Sh*tty first drafts are not necessarily “sh*tty” but rather the raw, unpolished versions of a story or idea. It’s important to view them as necessary steps in the creative process.

2. Each writer has a unique approach to writing, and what works for one may not work for another. It is essential to find a method that suits your style and preferences.

3. Overcoming perfectionism is crucial in writing. Accepting that perfection doesn’t exist and that “done is better than perfect” can help writers make progress.

4. Writing a first draft quickly and freely without worrying about perfection can be a beneficial strategy, especially for those who work under time constraints. Editing can always come later.

5. Writers often feel the need to edit as they go, but this can lead to unnecessary self-censorship and hinder the creative flow. Allowing ideas to flow freely can lead to more authentic and spontaneous writing.

6. Finding inspiration in small details, quotes, or images can spark the creative process and help writers explore new ideas and storylines.

7. Non-native English speakers may face additional challenges in drafting, but focusing on grammar and perfect punctuation in the first draft is not essential. The primary focus should be on capturing the essence of the story.

8. Building a solid foundation in the first draft is crucial before tending to details and polishing the writing. Worrying about small details too early can lead to wasted effort if major structural changes are needed.

9. Accepting imperfections in the first draft can save time and energy. Using brackets or placeholders to remind yourself of concepts or descriptions that need further development can be a helpful technique.

Resources Mentioned:

https://writerunboxed.com/2013/01/10/9-tips-for-writing-a-really-good-shitty-first-draft-2/ 

https://creativequesters.com/2023/03/31/how-to-fight-perfectionism/ 

 

Transcript

Stefka Spiegel:
Hello, and welcome to The Creative Questers. My name is Stefka.

Christina Howell:
And I’m Christina. And today, we are going to be talking about shitty first drafts and whether you should write them shitty or edit as you go or something like that.

Stefka Spiegel:
Honestly, I agree with the sentiment of the episode title we’ve chosen naturally. But I saw while I was, researching a bit and reading stuff. I saw someone make the point that 1st drafts are never shitty. They’re just 1st drafts. I feel like it mostly depends on how people get Started with their stories because some people are like, oh, I have a quote or I have an image or I have a thing. And at least that’s how it works for me in general. I have, like, a sentence in my head or a quote or an image or even with the story I told you about very recently. A statue that I saw in a church in Vienna that wore a shroud deep into its face and was carrying an urn.

And there’s a whole story behind this, and these are probably some of the Habsburg nobles or related or something like that. But, to me, it was like, oh, wouldn’t this be such an interesting idea, though, to start a story with a funeral march? A weird kind of funeral march. And then as I wrote the story, the rest came to me. And the 1st draft of it was quite, well, rough, I wanna say. Not shitty necessary because I wrote it on my phone, and I usually don’t do this. And I know a lot of people do, especially in the fan fiction realms that I like to move in. People love to just type out their ideas on on their phone. And there’s a whole other thought right there, but I’m gonna stop talking in a minute come back to what the point I wanted to make with the story about the shrouded figure.

And I found that just writing that 1st draft was so helpful in the sense that I would have lost the story if I hadn’t written it down immediately. I was traveling. And by the end of that week, I was like, oh, I saw that statue. Didn’t I want to write a story? Wait. I did write that story, and then I could pick it back up and finish it. Write. So, yeah, that’s how it works for me. Christina, how do you start your stories?

Christina Howell:
It definitely depends. Not only does each writer have a different way of writing and find different ways that work for them. That may not work for others. Something that might work for me one day and might not work for me another day.

As we have talked before, like in our perfectionism episode, I’m an perfectionist. I need to remember one of our points from that was that we need to stop identifying as being perfectionists. Perfect doesn’t exist. And as as you and many people like to say done is better than perfect.

Stefka Spiegel:
Oh yes. Oh my God.

Christina Howell:
Yes. I still do struggle to just forge through and write a shitty first draft. I tend to want to edit as I go.

Stefka Spiegel:
But then you are this is what you do professionally, like editing texts. So that might be even harder for you than it is for me because I work as a copywriter. Yes. Most of my work is crafting the news the new texts.

Christina Howell:
And you have to be done quickly.

Stefka Spiegel:
Maybe this is even why it helps because this is the nature of my work. Like, there is time, of course, to, like, proofread it, but there should be time. But there isn’t usually, like, a week or two to let the tech simmer or change your thought process behind it. In your mind while you’re writing, what what kind of mindset Do you have, like, towards this 1st draft? Do you think, oh, this is the 1st draft. I’ll come back to this, or this is a finished story, and I just need to reedit it? How is this in your mind while you write?

Christina Howell:
When I first started writing, like, back in school, I did not see the point in doing 1st drafts at all. Okay. I thought it was stupid. I thought it was a waste of time because why would I waste all that time going, writing something crappy that I was going to have to go back and fix everything later. And so I would, I would spend a lot of time stressing out the last minute because I also am a procrastinator. Who isn’t? I will wait till last minute, and then I would agonize over each sentence just the way it need to be in the right place. I would even do that for the classes where we had to turn in a 1st draft.

I would consider that actually my final draft. Yeah. But I have learned that there is definitely something to be said for like this example you just gave of getting the ideas down and just getting to the end instead of Yeah. Agonizing over each piece. So I’m getting better about just writing and not worrying about perfection as much. But then if I am at a point where I’m looking at that blank screen, and I don’t know what I wanna write. It can be soothing to me to pick up a piece that needs editing.

Stefka Spiegel:
So with with a lot of, texts, I find that there is, like, this famous first line that people will quote at you. Like, the the pride and prejudice one. It is a truth universally acknowledged that every woman in possession of a fortune must be in want of a man Or something to the effect of that. Mhmm. And there’s also something about this comparing the static after TV to the sky. For some reason, that image to me was so unique and so compelling that I kept reading through that story. Even though, honestly, looking at it afterwards. There are quite some things in that story that I didn’t like, but the first line had me hooked.

And I find that that must have taken a lot of consideration. Of course, I don’t know. Like, some people might just come up with these gorgeous first lines and just jump straight into the texts. But I feel like It is worth worth it sometimes to just sit and ponder about an idea and kind of write slowly. This is more often the case for me, just because this is how I work as a writer. If you already have, like, this idea and you start writing and you can feel your characters Almost coming to life and moving ahead. And you’re like, oh, let’s just follow them. But here’s also a thing that for me as a non native speaker, of course, There are just some some rules and some things that I just either I’m not quite aware of or don’t care while I’m drafting because it would be kind of almost too much to focus on grammar now too.

I do not ascribe to the idea that perfect punctuation is necessary. I find myself very much in the 80% corner where long as I can understand what you want me to understand, I am fine.

Christina Howell:
Yeah. If you wanna get it published someplace, it better be perfect.

Stefka Spiegel:
Yeah. Sure. Sure.

Christina Howell:
Like we talked about that in our last episode about getting things published, but you’re right for the 1st draft you don’t need to worry about things like that. While I was doing my research, I read something that I thought was really appropriate. They said if you are building the foundation, you’re not going to worry about putting things up on walls. Yes. Before the walls are even up. So you need to get that, that foundation built before you worry about all those little details. And if we’re not careful, this is something that I definitely have run into is by going in and trying to find the perfect word, or trying to edit a piece into perfection. As I get to the end, I’ll realize, oh, that whole paragraph actually doesn’t really fit anymore.

And I spent all that time searching for that perfect description, for the perfect metaphor, and it was just waste. Yeah. And so something that I’ve started doing this. Been really helpful is if I can’t think of the right word or I can’t think of the right metaphor or something, output brackets and I’ll say, insert a metaphor about X here. Or if it’s something I need to research more. I’ll say research about this later. Or if it’s an idea that comes up because like, sometimes you have a really good idea in the middle of doing something, but you know that what you’re trying to write is actually going in this other direction.

I’ll find it really distracting. And I don’t want that idea to get run away. So I’ll just take a note, and then I I can feel like, okay, that I’ll be able to come back to that later. I’ve left myself with enough enough of a note. I don’t want to get bogged down and lose the momentum on both ideas. So that releases it and lets me get back into my shitty first draft.

Stefka Spiegel:
Oh, but I think that is a clever thing to do. Sometimes I’ve heard a word before or now know the way it sounds, but I do not know how it’s spelled. Words like ambiguity. Sometimes I just I do not remember how it’s spelled. So I’ll just spell it how I hear it. Do, like, 3 question marks just to later on, when I come back, I’m like, oh, yeah. I need to look up how this is spelled. Or sometimes it’s even that I’m, like, not quite certain if that’s the word I want.

But write it down. Move on because this is not what I’m doing. I’m crafting this for a story, and I’m also just kind of seeing how the characters come to me and which other characters pop up. Even while I’m crafting it, I’m also, like, starting to think, okay. There might be more room to include, like, more character description Something that I just don’t have right now that I’ll do the same thing as you do. I just go with brackets or go with dot the dot and be like, there’s something missing here.

Christina Howell:
Yeah, as it’s something helpful note on that. If you use brackets or something that you don’t normally use in your text, that. That’s something you can easily just do a control. Oh, yes. And it’s fine and come back right to it and you can fix it later. And there’s something you you’ve mentioned a couple of times. If you spend any time in the writing communities. You’ve heard people talk about whether you are a pantser or a plotter. What a pantser is, that’s something you’ve been alluding to is somebody who really likes the story to kind of come out as they’re writing it. And they’re letting the characters kind of introduce themselves and the characters. Yeah. You’ll think the character’s gonna go one way, but then as you start writing it, you realize, oh, this is actually more interesting. It’s almost as if this character is talking to you and leading you down a different path. Whereas other people find it very important to have everything all plotted out, and they have these points.

They know their characters our needing to do these certain things, and they need to behave in these certain ways. And they have this whole structure set up before they start. And there’s not one that’s right or one that’s wrong. There are successful authors that are on either side. I don’t know if there’s ever been any kind of research to do to see if we have more one than the other.

Stefka Spiegel:
Oh, it must have been. This is not, like, point a and here’s point b, and you either ascribe to one thing or the other. It’s more of a scale between 2 dots. And personally, as always, I like to combine the worst of both words. No. I no. The best the best of both.

Actually, as I talk about it, I’m realizing that, it’s a longer things. I am totally a plotter. I need to be a plotter because things get away from me, and they will never end up anywhere I want them to end up. But, like, I need them to have an end. But with short stories, I like to just let them run their course and see where I end up. Because I’ve been thinking about a lot about this the last few days, what makes a good short story. And I thought that maybe part of it is because at the core, you have an important message or just some kind of thing that you’re trying to communicate. And I’m not, Like, saying now that this is true for every story and for everyone, but the stories that touch me the most, that work best for me, they have a thought or a concept At the center that appeals to me or it doesn’t have to be, like, a moral thing.

Like, don’t steal or something. Just like a central thought that is communicated throughout. Yes. Or a theme that’s communicated throughout. But I realized that I might wanna Back in with some of the stories that I feel like they’re not quite there yet. They’re not quite super polished yet and might wanna do Might wanna go back to that. And that made me think, would it perhaps be a good idea with your 1st drafts already to focus or to ask yourself the question real quickly what your central theme is.

Christina Howell:
I think it is kind of a gray scale of, you can’t just assume you’re going to be writing shitty drafts and they’re going to turn into gold. At some point, you have to have some idea of what you want this to be. As I was doing my research, I was looking at 9 tips for writing a really good shitty first draft, really good shitty first draft by writers unboxed and something she said was knowing your basic theme and concentrating on the why and not the what. Yeah. And knowing what your point is before you begin to write. So it’s like finding this balance, not necessarily just writing the whole thing as just being vomit on the page. Yeah. But letting yourself have the freedom to go ahead and let the characters do some things on their own, but have in mind where you want it to go, and why you’re writing this.

Don’t get too caught up in finding the perfect word.

Stefka Spiegel:
Whatever you’re trying. I find honestly that a lot of times, I do not have my ending already, like, set in stone when I begin to write because I I write more like this emotion, this feeling that, like, sing with the statue, that the statue kind of made me feel. And the thing that I thought, oh, this is interesting, and try to give a kind of a space to that thought, that spark of inspiration, that muse’s kiss, so to say. Mhmm. The craft, a thing around it. And And then I very naturally end it up at, like, a kind of open end that wasn’t a proper end. So I had to put it down and come back to it a week later and finish it with a few final paragraphs when I have time to think about the theme.

A first draft doesn’t have to be complete. It can just be a conversation in the middle of a story where you’re like, oh, I’d love to have my characters say this, or This is the point I want to make here. This is the the thought I had when I saw the thing that inspired me or the sentence I read. And then Even if it doesn’t have a proper beginning or ending. That’s fair. That’s what first drafts are to me. And then, again, when you come back in for editing, Then it’s the whole question of, can you delete the whole beginning? Like, were you just rambling yourself towards the thing that you were trying to write about?

The ending, are you just finishing it for the sake of finishing it, or could you have cut it off a bit earlier?

Christina Howell:
And as an editor, what I often see is the first paragraph, maybe the first 3 paragraphs aren’t necessary.

And so, like, when you were talking about the perfect, perfect first line, that perfect first line. I almost guarantee was not the original first line.

Stefka Spiegel:
Oh, okay. Yeah. Very possible.

Christina Howell:
And a lot of people tend to think that they need to have some setup. You kind of do need that for your own purposes. Yeah, you need to know as a writer. You need to know what these characters are doing, what their relationship is to each other, what the setting is. And so sometimes you really need to write all of these things first, but as a reader, maybe it’s better if they learn all of this, like, through the characters later. And so a lot of times those first few paragraphs can just be X’d, can be cut out and it will be a better, more engaging first paragraph when you take out that background stuff. And so let yourself write that there’s writing for yourself, writing to tell yourself the story. And then as you edit it, then you’re keeping the reader more in mind.

Stefka Spiegel:
Absolutely. Yeah. 100% agreed. So I think that we can summarize that we Are totally in favor of shitty first drafts, that they usually are a good thing, but that perfectionism can make it hard.

Christina Howell:
Well, and I think it is important to point out that short stories and longer forms stories are going to have different requirements.

Stefka Spiegel:
Mhmm.

Christina Howell:
And so a a bigger piece might need a lot more thought put into the structure to make it really successful. And I think you need to find a balance in between the

Stefka Spiegel:
True. Absolutely 100%

Christina Howell:
Find a balance that works for you. W Somerset Malcolm said, there are 3 rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. I think we all have our own ways of going about doing things. So absolutely it’s worth trying different things and it’s worth letting go of perfectionism because done is better than perfect.

If you’re constantly just staring at that blank screen, no one’s gonna be able to read your blank screen and get any good story out of it.

Stefka Spiegel:
True. Also, a first draft It’s just the 1st draft. This is not what you would be sending in for any competitions or submission costs. This is not necessarily a thing that you have to share with anyone. This can just be Yeah. Your 1st draft that helps you finalize a story eventually that is perfect and wonderful in every way.

Christina Howell:
Telling yourself the story before you tell someone else. Yes. Yeah. Okay. Well, I hope you got something good out of this. Get your words out there on the page.

Stefka Spiegel:
Yes, please. Thanks for listening to us. And as always, you can find extra stuff in the show notes. We hope, you’ll tune in next time.

Christina Howell:
Yes. Until then, happy questing.

Stefka Spiegel:
Happy questing.

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