A Perfectionist's Guide to Crappy First Drafts

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

Hi NaNo-ers and non-NaNo-ers. I was all set to write a post this week about how it’s okay to write a crappy first draft because you can always revise it…yada yada yada. I started writing it several times before I realized the problem: even I don’t believe that.

See, this advice about writing crappy first drafts came about because it keeps many writers’ perfectionism at bay. And that’s really important when you hold yourself to high standards.

And there is something to be said for letting go of those standards while you’re writing your first draft. Part of it is just recognizing that any first draft isn’t going to be perfect. Or maybe that a perfect first draft is still imperfect. That’s what editing and revising is for. All that is true.

But what if you’re so much of a perfectionist (or even a quibbling, sometimes-pedantic fussbudget—as I once described myself!) that you can’t get past the idea of writing something beneath your standards? Boy, can I relate! I can’t just write without thinking about the finished product. It’s really hard to turn off my internal editor when I spend all day editing, um…externally.

Does that mean you’re just doomed to a crappy first draft?

It doesn’t have to.

Escape Crappy First Draft Purgatory

Writing a better first draft is a balancing act—on the one side you have the desire for the perfect first draft and on the other, the desire to actually finish your book. You want to keep moving forward, but you’re afraid that no amount of revising will be able to fix it.

So, How Do You Find That Balance?

Think realistically

The scenario: X author churns out a first draft in two weeks and then never touches it again but still manages to turn it into Everyone’s Favorite Book. Nope. That just doesn’t happen. Don’t believe it for one second. It isn’t possible to write a first draft that doesn’t require any revision.

Take perspective

You are way more judgmental of your writing than anyone else’s. When you find yourself being overly critical of your first draft, try to see it from another angle. Ask yourself how someone else might see your writing or what you might say to another writer to cheer them on.

Make notes

When you feel something is wrong or missing, instead of taking up all your writing time obsessing over it, write it down. I always keep a spiral notebook on my desk for just this reason. When I’m done writing (or editing), I look over my notes so the ideas can roll around in my head while I do other things. The answer almost always comes to me while I’m driving, showering, or cooking. Thank goodness for dictation apps!

Look at the big picture

Have you ever done this: You’ve been going along just fine—really in the flow—and then you come to a part that’s just hard to write. Instead of agonizing over every little detail of these hard parts, just write what you can and then move on to the parts that allow you to get back in the flow.


I know you know that you can’t write a perfect book the first time around. And you know I know you know it! Ask yourself what level of imperfection you are willing to accept at this stage. What are the most important aspects of your book? Keep your focus there and let go of the rest…for now.

Just remember that, when all is said and done (in your book, that is)…no matter how much you fuss over it the first time around…your first draft is still just that—a draft. So don’t waste precious time and energy stressing over every little detail, when a lot of that is just going to change later anyway.

Now get back to writing!

How do you handle perfectionism when you are writing your first draft? Leave a comment below or tweet me @jenichappelle.

Don’t Forget!

· Send me your questions any time on Twitter using #AskJeni

· Have questions too big to answer in 140-characters? Book a 30-minute NaNoWriMo coaching slot. These are first come, first served.


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