Why your first draft might disappoint you

The long, slender stalk will eventually bear a flower. It’s growing from Haworthia venosa ssp. tessellata, a succulent from South Africa.

You have a bright, shiny idea to write something — a poem, song, story, novel, essay, article, speech, or report — and you start to write it down … and it’s not quite right. In fact, halfway through it might even seem not worth finishing.

It happens to me all the time. I deal with that feeling by ignoring it, and I ignore it because I understand what triggers that feeling. I start with a bright, shiny, but somewhat incoherent idea. Then I commit that idea to words, it coheres, and in the process, it changes.

It changes for many reasons, but the main one is that the idea has to move from one form of expression to another, in the same way that turning a painting into a sculpture, or a novel into a movie, brings changes. I was inspired in one kind of expression, which was thought, and now I’m staring at words … and it’s different.

Different isn’t bad. In fact, different can be good. Sometimes an idea improves during the move, or it ventures in a different, equally inspired direction.

Still, the first draft is normally imperfect, even deeply flawed. It’s a first draft, after all, a rough draft. Imperfect is okay. All first/rough drafts have problems, and problems can be solved. Perfection in a first draft isn’t required and shouldn’t be expected.

The first draft must fulfill only one requirement to be worthy: it must exist. I can do anything with that draft, but only if I have the draft. If that draft goes all the way to “the end,” it has achieved a success that rivals the state of a Platonic ideal.

So don’t feel disappointed with your first draft. Instead, load it onto a pen drive or print it out and take it with you to your favorite restaurant or park to celebrate its existence. You have a first draft!

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