Why do we always have to keep learning the same lessons? Wouldn’t it be nice occasionally for something to stick? I forgot one of the fundamentals of first draft writing and it was painful relearning it.First draft: old typewriter The problem is that you always think you know better. I know – I know only too well – that when you write a first draft, the worst thing you can do is try to get it right. I learnt it myself the hard way, a long time ago, and I teach it all the time.

First drafts are supposed to be a mess

First drafts are supposed to be a mess. If you try to get it right, you find yourself editing, and that kills it stone dead. But then you start to believe you can outsmart the system. Every time I sit down to write a new first draft I think, this time it will be good from the start. This time I’ve learned all the mistakes that can be made, and I’m going to avoid them. After all, I’m a prize-winning writer-director, and I’ve got books coming out: I must know something. And I remember the improvements I had to make last time, all the redrafts, all that I learned. And I say, maybe this time. Maybe this time, I can avoid the mess. The stumbling opening. The confused middle. The limp end. Or at least some of them.

The hubris trap

Earlier this week, the writing had become painful. I struggled to get the words out. Nothing was working. It was the first draft from hell. Then I realised what I’d done. I’d started trying to make the first draft good from the beginning. I’d forgotten the most important rule of them all – don’t get it right, get it written! I’d fallen into the trap of hubris – believing that somehow I was now “better than that”. That I could avoid the mistakes. And you know, the thing is you can’t avoid the mistakes. In fact, you must make the mistakes to find the correct path.

No better “me”

I somehow believed I could escape myself, and be an imaginary “better” writer. But what comes out of the mess of the first draft is me. Like it or not. I can’t escape me. All I can do is put it all down, and polish it up later, so that at least it’s a polished me. That’s all I’ve got. Maybe I’ll remember that lesson for next time.