Why You Should Write Bad Final Drafts

The Page of Swords is about embarking on an intellectual journey.


Writing is easy. Writing well is hard.

That’s why much has been said about the magic of bad first drafts. From Casey Fowler… 

The first draft is always perfect. perfect. Its only job is to exist. Like minerals. Like dirt. Like air. It just needs to be. All a first draft need be is an idea borne into reality. A first draft is something made tangible from nothing – its only purpose is to pierce the space between your thoughts and the reality we all share.

…to my friend Jay, to David Sedaris:

“With The first draft, I just write everything. With the second draft, it becomes so depressing for me, because I realize I was fooled into thinking I’d written a story. I hadn’t—I had just typed a long time. So I then have to carve out a story from the twenty-five or so pages. It’s in there somewhere—but I have to find it.”

The thinking goes like this: it’s easier to edit something that exists than to write something new. So when you start a writing project, you should zip through the first draft—capturing all your thoughts, knowing it won’t be a great piece of work—with confidence that you can make it much better in the second draft.

via Death to the Stock Photo

But the problem with this mindset is that it only delays the pressure of doing “good” writing, pushing it off from the first draft and onto the second. That’s why I don’t just believe in bad first drafts, but bad second, third, and even final drafts. I have a never-ending faith in “later.” I always believe that I can make my writing better in the next draft.

Like right now, I’m finishing the fifth draft of my current book project, and I know it’s the best version yet. But I’m also 100 percent confident that version six will be even better. In this way, I never feel pressure to make this draft (whichever number or version) really “count,” because I can always write another, better one after I finish the current one.

folders

I recognize you can’t write drafts forever, whether because of a deadline or the desire to just get it off your desk and out the door. And when that time does come, I accept that the work won’t be perfect. It might even be bad. It could always be better. But writing 100 more drafts wouldn’t change that.

I like what the tennis champion Martina Navratilova has to say about that:

“If you strive for excellence, perfection may happen. It’s good enough to be excellent. That’s good enough. You don’t need to be perfect because perfection just happens by accident.”

So start typing.


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