You remember what Ernest Hemingway said about first drafts, don’t you? If not, I’ll remind you. Good old Ern said, “First drafts are shit.” The man had a way with words, didn’t he? Well, he was right. I’ve known writers who were too up tight to write because they felt their work wasn’t good enough. But look at it this way. Nobody is looking over your shoulder when you write, are they? Nobody knows what you’re typing except you. You don’t allow anyone to read your first drafts do you? If you do, DON’T!
I have a method that I have worked out over the years. I try to write something every day, even if it is just this blog. But if I am working on a story or a novel I try to write about a thousand words a day. Sometimes, if I am hot I might turn out two thousand. If nothing feels right, I may only get five hundred on a bad day. But, here’s the thing.
All of that is “first draft.” The next day I will read what I had written the day before and I might clean it up a bit as I go along. But it is still first draft and I don’t have to remind you what those are. The real work comes after that first draft. You may throw away half of what you have written and write all new material. Elmore Leonard said that what he did was write a long first draft and then “take out the parts that nobody would read anyway.”
A 250 or 300 page novel of mine will have been rewritten four or five times before I let it go. And even then, if I could I would do “just one more” rewrite. You will never get it perfect, but there comes a time when you must let your baby go to the publisher. I had one novel that I kept taking in and out of a drawer for fifteen YEARS! I’d work on it a bit, and put it back in the drawer. But your reader doesn’t know, or care, how long it took you to write something that pleases them.
So don’t be afraid to write that first draft. Only you will know what it is, and you know that the finished product will bear little resemblance to that first draft. Be brave, fire up the word processor and start writing!