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The first draft of anything is shit.

Some time ago, after finagling my first novel into more-or-less finished form, I found an editor's blog that offered free evaluation of one opening chapter in exchange for permission to post it on his blog with comments and suggestions for all the world to see. I was thrilled. Finally, an expert to validate my genius! I emailed him with the opening of my novel and waited for praise. He wrote back (I'm paraphrasing here), "it sucks. It sucks hard."

That stung. But it was exactly what I needed to hear. And in fact, he was more tactful than that, and complimented me on the things that I did right. What I got from him that was invaluable, though, were the frank explanations of what I'd done wrong and his ideas for how to make it right.

I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where) that when Hemingway finished his first draft of The Sun Also Rises, mentor Gertrude Stein told him to "start over, and this time, pay attention." He did, and ended up with a pretty good book in the end. The quote in this post's title is Hemingway's. If he can say so about his own work then it certainly holds true for me and any apprentice author. Not that getting a rough draft down is easy work, but it's only the first step in a long process. The hard part is the editing alchemy of turning shit to gold.

Categories: writing

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