A to Z of Things Writers Should Know About Writing: Underwhelmed

I’m still on my mission to complete my A to Z Challenge theme, and I’m actually feeling like I’m finally in my home stretch.

And today, I’m writing about a biggie.

Writers all have to come to terms with this simple fact or we simply couldn’t function as writers.

First drafts almost never live up to the pictures we have in our minds.
(Unless we’re temporarily delusional.)

I wish I can say that it becomes better, but really, all that happens is we learn to expect that compared to our idea, the draft will suck. So we’re not as crushed when we find this when we re-read what we’ve written. 
Why is this, though? Why don’t we just write the idea the way we have in our mind? 
Well… For one thing, writing is hard. Don’t ever let someone tell you it isn’t. Furthermore, our minds have a way of making ideas look incredibly shiny, because along with just the basic idea, we also see how we expect it to look and feel in the end. But the truth is that this sense of perfection is an illusion. 
It’s a nice illusion. It helps us be excited enough about our ideas to commit to the writing. 

But as soon as words start appearing on paper, you’ll find you don’t have exactly the right words to get the feels across that you have. You’ll discover plot-holes you never considered (even if you did plot). You’ll discover that the characters simply refuse to act in the way that you need them to in order to bring your vision about. 
Or you’ll get to the end and reread the whole thing, find that you got almost everything that you envisaged down and… it… just… sucks. 
There’s not really all that much that you can do about it. The translation from idea to draft is never perfect, and there’s not much you can do to change this. 
You can, however, change the way you see and react to the imperfection. 
I think all writers come to terms with imperfection in various ways, but this is what I do: 
1) When reading what I’ve written, I make note of flaws and weaknesses, but focus on the positives. No, no one’s rough draft sucks in its entirety. There’s always something worth keeping. Your job is to find that thing. And make note of all the things you need to change in order to improve your story. 
2) Remember that it’s always better to have one sucky draft than a million good ideas. This might seem counter-intuitive, but an idea is worth very little until you have it written on paper. Especially because of our mind’s way of making things look shinier in our thoughts than in reality. Once the story is written, we can fix it no matter how bad it looks. (Even if it takes a rewrite.) But if you don’t ever write it, there’s nothing you can do to it.
So yes, be underwhelmed, but remember that a sucky first draft is just part of the process. And be glad that you’re underwhelmed, because it will help you in edits later.
How do you deal with first draft suckage? Are you struggling with first draft suckage at the moment?
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21 thoughts on “A to Z of Things Writers Should Know About Writing: Underwhelmed

  1. First drafts always need a TON of work. It's not until around…oh…say draft 100 when it's golden. So I deal with a sucky first draft by editing it nearly to death and bringing it back to life. 😉

  2. It's still hard to understand how there can often be such a huge gap between what's in our heads and what ends up on paper. Whenever I come across a passage in someone else's book that really works, I try to figure out why so hopefully some of that talent will come out in my own work at some point!

  3. If the whole draft sucks, I just scrap it and start over. But usually it's about half and half. I'll have to rewrite chapters or completely delete characters. Or once, I had to change the POV. That sucked.

  4. That's a great way to look at it. I think each revision or draft should be about getting as close as we can to that initial vision, even if we never quite match it. So there's always something to aim for!

  5. After completing my first draft I always think it's the worst thing ever, and after a few months, when I read it again, I realize it has potential. I tend to have many drafts and many rounds of revisions to help me get to the final product.

  6. I have life suckage right now, so writing suckage is a small part of that. I suppose when (I'm being positive here) one part of the package gets better, the whole thing gets better too!

  7. We all do, Mac, but we still fall short when drafting. Writer's curse. 😛

    Chrys, sounds exhilarating. 😀

    Alex, that's the point I tried to make. Nothing we ever write completely sucks. There's always something good in there somewhere.

    Elena, it is a difficult thing to understand, but I think that trying to draft something as polished as a published book isn't going to be a good thing. Because those published books look the way they do after a LOT of edits.

    Madilyn, I'm the same as you. I'd rather re-draft that trying to fix something that's in a hopelessly bad shape. It's how we learn.

    Mary, I think so too. Moreover, I suspect that it actually goes on to help us when we edit (if we can keep our “this sucks” reaction limited to individual things.)

    I couldn't agree more, Nick.

    Murees, I work that way too. 🙂

    You can do it, Loni!

    It often does work like that, LuAnn.

    Ian, it is. I've found that a lot of writing tips actually do double (sometimes triple) duty.

  8. Usually I edit as I go, so my first draft never completely sucks. My first book was the only first draft that was awful, blah to that one, tossed it and did a new one.

  9. This is so true! I've come across a quote a couple of times that I always remind myself of while drafting: I'm just shoveling sand to build castles later (well, one can hope they're castles ;).

  10. when it comes to drafts, normally my second draft consists of me opening a fresh document, reading and re-reading what I've written in my first draft, and outright rewriting the whole thing. It's definitely slow, but it not only cleans up my thought process but the writing as a whole.

  11. I so agree!
    I definitely have the “this sucks SO bad” moments 9 out of 10 times lol, but like you say, no matter how bad it looks it's a GREAT start. I can fix it. A sucky first draft is always *my* first step 😉

  12. I'm alays excited to have finished a first draft. OK, mine are as rubbish as anyone else's but by then I know I have something and whatever I do to it next is almost bound to make it better.

  13. You must have written this for me, Misha. I am without a doubt in the throes of first draft suckage. That said, I think as raw as it is, the manuscript has potential to be something special. I have to think that or it would never make it to draft #2. The story is solid, but the writing requires deeper emotion, more evocative descriptions, and better drawn characters. I’ll get there. 🙂

    VR Barkowski

  14. I admit, I sometimes do fall in love with my first drafts still. Yet I have amazing critique partners that help me see the cracks in my delusion. I'm much better at dealing with that now than I once was, and while I'm not a fan of rewrites, I set myself to work to make the story shine as it really should.

  15. I'm revision with Champion's Destiny and the revision draft suckage is pretty bad – especially since it's compounded with the first draft suckage. At the same time, I'm making progress a tiny bit at a time there, and quite a bit with the non-fiction projects.

  16. Hi Pat. So cool that you edit as you go. I can't do that at all, because then I kill my story before it's done. 😀

    Meradeth, that's a great analogy.

    I do pretty much the same thing, Robert. Mainly because I rough draft by hand.

    I agree Katherine. No matter how bad that draft, it's something to start from. Even if you end up needing to rewrite, you've found the best way NOT to write your story. 😉

    Love your positive outlook, Patsy.

    Glad you found value in my writing, VR. You're totally right. Without seeing the potential of what we've written, we wouldn't be able to go further. But if we see what we must fix, it actually makes things easier to improve.

    Christine, I'm almost jealous of you. I also see all the pretty bits in my story, but always with all the not so pretty bits. 😀

    Progress is great, Tyrean. Keep going!

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