Your first draft is for your eyes only

In a recent interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Neil Gaiman gave some insight into his writing process. He usually writes the first draft longhand, in a notebook, with a fountain pen. Then he types up that draft, editing as he goes.

So many writers think they need to nail their first draft, believing that unless they can express themselves correctly the very first time, their draft is doomed—and with it, their career as a writer.

When have you ever perfected something the first time you tried it? I’m guessing that your first attempt at driving, making an omelette, throwing pottery, and baking bread all left something to be desired. Even if you banged out a pretty good omelette, guaranteed there was room for improvement.

The mistakes you make are yours to make, and they’re all part of the process. Don’t punish yourself by showing your first draft to others—getting that early feedback can stop you in your tracks and prevent your draft from evolving and improving.

Here’s Gaiman on cutting yourself some slack with that first draft:

Nobody is ever meant to read your first draft. Your first draft can go way off the rails, your first draft can absolutely go up in flames, it can — you can change the age, gender, number of a character, you can bring somebody dead back to life. Nobody ever needs to know anything that happens in your first draft. It is you telling the story to yourself.

Then, I’ll sit down and type. I’ll put it onto a computer, and as far as I’m concerned, the second draft is where I try and make it look like I knew what I was doing all along.

Click here for the whole interview, including Gaiman geeking out on fountain pens and paper (best!).

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