The key thing to remember about writing: It’s about writing! The more we think about what we write, the harder it gets. We can talk and think ourselves out of writing far easier than allowing ourselves just to write. The mind of a writer is filled with objections because most writers are afraid of writing something that doesn’t make sense, or worse, writing something that comes across as idiotic or is considered arbitrary. Your inner voice all too often will put forth resistance, telling you that you don’t make any sense whatsoever and you’d be much better off doing anything, except writing!
Maybe you’ll recognize some of these inner objections:
Am I really a writer? Am I any good?
Will anyone care about what I write about?
Does my story make any sense to anyone else?
Do I constantly repeat myself?
Do I over-edit?
Do my characters seem real? Do they have depth? Should I just go ahead and kill them all off now and give up writing forever?
Do I suck? No, I don’t. Yes, I do.
How bad do I suck? Bad! The Titanic sunk because it knew that I would be born and try to become a writer.
Why Writers Struggle So Much With Rejection
One of the things my inner voice loves to tell me is that my writing is total and complete garbage and beyond any shadow of a doubt will be rejected. My inner voice isn’t alone, as so-called experts tried to convince me of the same things too. Fear of rejection is powerful, because at some point or another we have all been rejected for something, and we never forget the pain. The more times we have been rejected for anything, the more doubt compounds within us. This is an especially complicated issue for writers, because we’ve all heard the stories and watched the movies where writers get rejected. Some will even tell you that if you want to be a writer then you better get used to being rejected. It’s almost as bad as trying to ask someone on a date for the very first time. The possibility of being turned down isn’t just extremely high, it’s 100% going to happen.
Have I made you feel any better about rejection? I didn’t think so. The good news is that the power of rejection holds less threat for writers today. You don’t need an editor’s approval to self-publish and you don’t have to send out thousands of letters to be accepted by any agent or publisher if you don’t want to. So then, what’s to stop you from writing and publishing your writing? Perhaps it’s the internal messaging system we all have that tends to tell us that when doing something, anything, it must be done in a certain way or it won’t be acceptable. Well, that may have been true for a long time, but when it comes to writing and publishing your work, you are now the-end-all-be-all if you want to be.
I think we hold onto memories of rejection because we try to avoid putting ourselves in a position of being rejected again, no matter what type of rejection that might be or from whom. Very few of us, if any, are completely free of this internal fear. All of us have our own way of dealing with it; however, to be truly free of the fear of rejection, one must come to terms with it. One way I have done that is to write for myself, knowing I can publish whatever I write if I choose to. That doesn’t mean I’ll sell a million copies or that it will attract a huge readership, but it’s still a freedom that gives me room to write. Blogging helps too, because it can be done regularly, in increments, and articles can be published privately first and then, when we’re ready, we can publish them publicly. Blogging also takes a while to gain a readership, so our writing is exposed to readers more slowly. As we gain more readers over time, we naturally gain confidence and eventually worry less about being rejected.
How to Conquer the Internal Editor One Word at a Time
At times, if you want to get past the internal resistance of your own mind, you actually have to give in and allow yourself to write whatever you come up with. Even if your writing seems like terrible, useless drivel no one will want to read, the more you write and get your thoughts on paper, or on the screen, or on your blog, the less power the internal nay saying voice has.
Writing rituals also help, which I’ll get to in a moment. Before writing, you might consider looking in the mirror and telling yourself you’re going to write the best gibberish you can come up with, and then challenge yourself to do exactly that! You may find yourself amazed at how much sense your gibberish makes when you read it back.
If you’re like me, then you’d like your first draft to be your only draft, but you probably also know that’s not what actually happens. Writing a first draft is mostly just getting your thoughts out of your head, but there’s a little more to it. A first draft often only makes sense to you, the writer, and it will need to be shaped and formed during the second and, perhaps, third draft. We sometimes heap unnecessary pressure on ourselves to write a perfect first draft. I don’t know of any writer who is ever completely satisfied with his or her first draft. I know I never am. It is the action of writing that matters, not necessarily the content itself.
The Most Important Advice Any Writer Will Ever Hear
I am willing to bet every writer on God’s green earth has been told their first draft is crap. Somehow we come to believe it and even tell ourselves this without ever considering the true mental and emotional impact. I refuse to join the chorus. Allow me to share something very important with you and it took me too long to realise it.
Your first draft is not crap no matter how far from perfect it might be.
I regret the many first drafts I’ve thrown away, because I’ll never be able to get them back. An idea is wonderful, but an idea written down is heaven. As a draft, it becomes a physical, tangible manifestation you can refer to and build on. Throwing away an idea, even symbolically, is painful and wasteful. I think all of us have woken from dreams and wished we had written them down, even if just haphazardly, and even if only to remember them later. How many dreams have you forgotten, but somehow the feeling that they were wonderful still stays with you? What if you had written about a dream while it was still fresh in your mind? What if that became your first draft? What would you refer to it as? I somehow doubt you would call it crap.
Think about it a moment. Consider how the word crap makes you feel (and I am using the “clean” version of the word). What emotional value does it provide? The first draft matters the most and it deserves proper credit. The belief you’re merely writing crap in order to be okay with the fact that it’s not “good” only serves to feed your doubts about your writing.
Every book, every article and every blog post starts off as a first draft. A first draft is when you turn an idea into some coherent form, when you’ve assembled your loose thoughts from notes collected on napkins, scraps of paper, or from your voice recorder. You know how painstaking this process is. Your first draft is perhaps the most important step to completing your project. It’s special. No one’s ever gotten to the end without the beginning. Crap is the last thing in the world that your first draft is!
I’m writing this because too many have come to believe that when they sit down and write their first draft they aren’t doing something crucial to the creative process. I mean, how important can crap be? Don’t throw away another seed before it has the opportunity to grow into something beautiful. Don’t discard the memory of another glorious dream before it can be realised.
Are You Consciously Investing in Your Writing?
I discovered this the hard way. If I don’t think constructively about what I’m writing, I won’t make the necessary mental and emotional investment it takes to see my writing through to fruition. Once I figured this out, I lowered my risk of falling into depths of writer’s doubt and became much more prolific. Your state of mind has a huge influence on your confidence and productivity. Today, when I sit down and write my first draft, I have the greatest respect for it. It won’t be perfect, and it certainly won’t be polished, but without the first draft I wouldn’t have anything!
If you want to feel better about your imperfect draft, then acknowledge that it’s incomplete and know you will shape it later on. It will take time and hard work. It won’t always be fun, but if it was just crap, would you want to put that kind of effort into it? I wouldn’t. What if you stopped calling it crap and started calling it by its true value? Would that change your perspective and increase the emotional value you place in your work?
Let’s be honest here, just for a moment. Between you and me, in the real world, what do you do with crap? You flush it or bin it. You’re too good for that and your first draft is too! No matter how imperfect it might be and no matter how much work must still be done.
With respect and admiration for Ernest Hemingway, I prefer this quote by Michael Lee:
“The first draft reveals the art, revision reveals the artist.”
One Easy Path to Respecting What You Write in Your First Draft
Starting a new writing project is an exciting, mysterious, and sometimes nerve-racking adventure, so try not to limit your process. I have several ways I use to get myself started. One very effective method is talking to myself.
Do you ever talk to yourself? When you’re alone (I think you’ll really want to be alone for this one), go ahead and start talking to yourself. Talk about anything: how the day has been, why you didn’t do something you should have done, a situation at work, or whatever happens to be on your mind.
Here, I’ll help you with a couple of questions: What do you really want to write about? Is there a special story that you want to tell? Talk out loud to yourself about that story, tell yourself openly and honestly why you want to write it.
Now here’s the key to this exercise: while you’re talking, make sure you have a word processor open. Type everything that you say, every single word. Don’t look at the monitor. No, don’t do that! Carry on your conversation with yourself until you’ve said everything you need to. Try not to hold anything back. When you’re finished talking, then, and only then, look at the monitor. There’s your first draft ready to be fashioned into your story. It might not be perfect, it might not be exactly what you wanted to write, but it certainly isn’t crap. It is a start, and it’s your very own personal invitation to continue writing.
Like I said, writing is about writing and sometimes it’s not what we write, but the actual process of writing itself that matters the most.