Observations On First Drafts

Almost everything I’ve read warns that the first draft is going to be embarrassingly bad. But one source said that she liked that part because it allowed her to work on the transitions from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter without worrying about the details until she started working on the second draft.

Here are a couple of comments on that subject from Ernest Hemingway.

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.

Anne Lamonte in Bird by Bird said: “Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. ”

As a side note: Hemingway also said that you should exercise: “It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again.”

The steps used in writing a novel:
Step one, start writing.

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