Hemingway was right about that first draft

posted in: Writing Process | 0

According to Ernest Hemingway, the first draft of anything is shit. Nine weeks and ninety-eight thousand words after starting my own first draft, I’ve managed to prove that he was completely right.

Shit, of course, is relative. It would be great to think that all first drafts are equally bad, that my first draft is as bad as one of Hemingway’s. Sadly, even though I haven’t seen the first draft of any of his work, I’m pretty sure that mine is actually worse.

But it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s a pretty good place to be. Nine weeks ago, all I had was an idea. Now I’ve got a first draft, and I can begin the work of making it better.

Hemingway also said: “write drunk, edit sober”. Having only just discovered this particular nugget of advice, I’ve got to say I’m a little sceptical about putting it into practice. For one thing, I wrote my first draft mostly sober. And, I’m not sure about approaching the editing phase without the comforting prospect of an occasional glass of wine to help me through what lies ahead. This is one particular quote, that I’m going to quietly ignore.

The next phase is not going to be easy, and will require a different mindset and toolbox to the work of producing a first draft. There is so much to think about – style, theme, point of view, character development. It’s daunting, but it’s important not to be overwhelmed by the scale of the task, or think that you are the only person who struggles with the quality of their own work.

In other words, it’s hard, but it’s supposed to be. Ernest Hemingway put it like this: “Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done.”

The point of all this struggle is to produce a finished product. And with the first draft complete an essential stepping stone has been reached. But the finished work is what really matters. Hemingway, again: “The hard part about writing a novel is finishing it.” The only way to do that is just one step at a time.