Lessons in Writing: You’re Allowed to Suck

I’m a slow writer. I know what comes out in the first draft isn’t perfect, but I want to get close. I want the words to sound right. I want it to flow. So I sit down and take an hour or more to squeeze out 500 words. It takes me six months or more to finish the first draft of a novel, and that’s a significant speed increase over my early novels. This is all before editing, getting feedback, more editing, polishing, and then waiting to see if anyone even wants the thing. If I want to make a career out of this, that kind of pace just isn’t going to cut it. What I need to do (besides, you know, get better) is to speed up, and the biggest chunk of time is eaten up by that damn first draft.

As Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I know things are going to change in later drafts, so why do I need to be so picky about the first one? What I need to do is keep reinforcing the lesson that Mur Lafferty and so many others repeat: You’re allowed to suck. It’s okay to make a mess. I don’t need to find the perfect word to describe something. Everything can be fixed later. The goal is to get the first draft finished. I’ve managed to embrace this idea three times for NaNoWriMo, churning out a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. But once November is over, the slow pace creeps back in. I don’t expect to manage that level of intensity more than once a year, I think it would make me burn out rather quickly. What I’d like is to get my first draft time down to five months, or four, by getting more words down in a shorter amount of time.

During a first draft, I can suck. I can stop right in the middle of a scene because it’s boring and I want to do something else. I can name a character That One Guy and give him an actual name later. I can write sentences so bad they make me fall out of my chair laughing. And you know what? You can, too. It’s just the first draft. Anything goes. So have fun, go wild, do anything to keep those words coming. I give myself permission and I give you permission: You’re allowed to suck.

Isn’t that a freeing thought?

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