I’ve said it before…

They probably shouldn't be looking at that. They'll go blind.I was trawling around the webs recently and I came across another list of tips from published, and occasionally well known, authors. You know the ones; two dozen writers saying the same thing over and over.

Truth be told, we all know these rules, we just like to have them confirmed to us by people who look like they know what they’re doing.

Anyway, having got bored with most of the tips, I came across this one from Josh Shenk, author of Lincoln’s Melancholy:

Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.

The rest of the list is here

And I thought, yes, of all the tips I’ve ever read, that is one of the best. I’ve read it in a number of places. I’ve even mentioned it myself as part of my story development technique.

The first draft of your story is vital if you’re going to have any idea what your story is about. You might think you know what it’s about, but until you’ve got through the first draft, you really don’t. In order to find out about your story you’ve got to write the damn thing.

Writing it is the easy part. What makes it difficult is editing as you go along.

If you edit as you go, you spend more time listening to your inner critic than is healthy. That little fecker will slow you down and delight in telling you that your story is awful, it makes no sense, it’s full of holes, you’ve forgotten to foreshadow important events, you’re characterisation is flat, you’re wasting your time, you’re wasting my time and you’re wasting everyone else’s time you stupid loser, you’ll never be a writer. Do you HEAR ME? NEVER!

Twat.

The hardest thing you’ll ever do as a writer, is hunt down the source of that irritating little voice and ball-gag it. But it’ll be totally worth it because once you’ve shut him up you can get on with the writing.

I mean it, silencing your inner critic is really hard, especially if you think you need to edit as you go. You really don’t though. Get up a good head of steam, plough through the pain and get that first draft written and you’ll see what I mean.

Remember, the most important thing you can do as a writer is finish your story. So take an index card or a postcard or post-it note or something you can put in a place you’ll see when you’re creating, and write this on it:

First, write.

Update: To see how bad a first draft can be, I’ve posted a sample from my first draft of, Monkeygeddon!

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Viv June 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Taking out a hit for kneecaps and so on for those benighted souls who write blogs that supposedly tell you how to write in the first place is a good move too. I’m planning a Dexter-like swoop on all the feckers one day.
Another good move is never allowing the inner critic headroom EVER. Mine has found a happy life making me feel bad about every other aspect of my existence that he never ever bothers with the writing side of things. It means I feel crap about myself at all times but seldom about my writing.
Good post and you did it without sausages or cake cropping up once.
Bravo!
Viv recently posted…Strangers and Pilgrims now available on KindleMy Profile

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Mr Uku June 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Oh there’s always cake and sausages, even if you can’t see them for all the gibberish and ranting 🙂

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Squeaky June 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Ay-fuckin’-men, brother!

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Mr Uku June 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Go me!

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Nettie June 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Decent advice. Also, why do you have a picture of kids with a creepy glow-in-the-dark book?
Nettie recently posted…MothMy Profile

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Mr Uku June 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Because I’d already used the picture of the chihuahua in luchador mask.

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Nettie June 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Also, I like the “recently posted…” thing.
Nettie recently posted…MothMy Profile

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Mr Uku June 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Recently posted thing brought to you by CommentLuv.

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Nettie June 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Also, please kill my inner editor cos he’s killing me.
Nettie recently posted…MothMy Profile

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Mr Uku June 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Kill your own, mine is too much of a pain and needs my full attention.

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Viv June 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Nettie, supply me with a DNA sample and I will happily end him for you. I also have a voodoo kit if that helps.
Viv recently posted…Strangers and Pilgrims now available on KindleMy Profile

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michelle Wheeler June 5, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Thank you, advice taken on board. Beginning to see the silent singer I edit so much.

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Mr Uku June 5, 2011 at 10:07 pm

See now, that’s just freaky scary.

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Clare Kirkpatrick June 6, 2011 at 8:40 am

Advice duly noted. Thank you.
Clare Kirkpatrick recently posted…How to find a critique partner-groupMy Profile

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Mr Uku June 6, 2011 at 8:50 am

Sorted 🙂

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Elpi June 6, 2011 at 8:41 am

Drowning the voice with alcohol seems to help me! Got through the first draft and now editing. Love the bit about allowing yourself to be a bad writer. First drafts are meant to be bad, aren’t they?

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Mr Uku June 6, 2011 at 8:50 am

First drafts are definitely meant to be bad. And yes, I agree, that bit about allowing yourself to be a bad writer is great. I’ve read this advice in many places, but I think that quote says it best.

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Bethe June 8, 2011 at 12:34 am

Hmmm, my problem is letting my edits go out to an actual editor. I wrote my first draft in under 3 weeks — after work — a demon with a taste for Bailey’s and very bad language. But that was a few years ago and I still can’t seem to toss it out into the world.

Therapy, or should I just take up Scotch and smoking and find a stinkin’ editor and be done with it?

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Mr Uku June 8, 2011 at 9:36 am

The best solution to letting go that I know of, is to start something new as soon as you think you’ve finished. Then you can get your first ones sent out while you’re distracted. Booze helps, but you might want to unplug the phone 🙂

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Jacqueline Pye June 13, 2011 at 6:34 am

As they say on the bbc writers room pages, “Don’t get it right, get it writ.” W.e s.h.a.l.l o.b.e.y.
Thanks for the wise post.

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Mr Uku June 13, 2011 at 8:35 am

Hi Jacqueline.
Yes, it’s advice we see just about everywhere, but it still gets ignored all the time. The problem is, it’s really easy to say, but it’s bloody hard to do. Worth it in the end though.

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Marisa Birns July 21, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Well, I finally have found this place again. Actually, I followed the link you posted on Twitter.

Very useful advice, thoughI am one of those who edit as I go along. Not sentence by sentence, but when I stop for the day I usually read over everything and tweak here and there. Then, next day, I look at it again and it helps in getting me back to the story.

First drafts are meant to be bad. But if they’re horrifically bad, then there’s more hard work down the road. And if you give lots of treats to inner editor, it’s better all around.
Marisa Birns recently posted…This Day ForwardMy Profile

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Mr Uku July 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Another good idea. I like it.
I think you’re right, if what you produce is utter rot, it’s hard to leave it completely alone. The trick is to not let yourself get so bogged down in getting it perfect that you never progress.

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