Overcoming the Shitty First Draft Mentality

overcoming the shitty first draft mentality

Ah. The Shitty First Draft.

I was in graduate school when I was introduced to the Ernest Hemingway quote: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

At the time, the quote was freeing for me to hear as a writer. I don’t have to get the words perfect in this first draft, I just need to get them onto the page!

But as weeks, months, and years wore on--I started to feel horrible about my novel. Sitting at my desk, I berated myself: “Your writing sucks. This is shit. You’re shit.” My confidence really started to take a hit.

I started writing less, started making excuses to avoid my writing desk and evaded questions from family and friends about how my book was coming along. Inside, I was hurting and wondering if I would ever be good enough to a published author.

Ingrid Sundberg, author of All We Left Behind, vlogged about the Shitty First Draft Mentality and the negative impact it can have on writers. Her thoughts really resonated with me:

Overcoming the Shitty First Draft Mentality wasn’t easy for me. But the journey started the day  I stumbled across this quote in my colleagues’ page a day inspirational calendar:

There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.
— —Jack Kerouac, On the Road

In a moment when I was feeling stuck and trapped under my shitty first draft--this quote reminded me that I had nowhere to go but everywhere.

I began to meditate, using “nowhere to go but everywhere” as my mantra. This simple, positive mind shift was transformative. Instead of putting myself down or telling myself my work was shit, I began to revel in my work. I took pride in every small writing goal I achieved. Pride in every word I typed onto the page.

Through meditation, I also was able to reflect and remind myself why I wanted to become an author in the first place--because I love writing. I love my craft.

Are the words perfect? Far from it. But my first draft is not shit. My first draft is magnificent. I’ve put to a paper a story that no one else can tell--a story that no one’s heard before. It’s a wonderful accomplishment.

Taking deep pride in this draft gives me the energy and excitement I’ll need to begin the revision process.