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16 Quotes from Writers On First Drafts

As someone deep in the trenches of writing the first draft of a novel, I require my fair share of reminders that all the tests of willpower and sanity I’m facing are normal and, in fact, just part of the crazy sexy process. Reminders that my terrible first draft isn’t proof that I’m a terrible writer. That it’s crucial not to get caught up in editing as I write because that just interrupts the very important process of simply getting shit down on paper. That my focus should be on discovering what the story is truly about and giving myself something I can chisel, mold and polish later.

All the things I know, but tend to temporarily forget once I’m actually doing the work. It’s so much more tempting to think all of the wrong thoughts and be self-sabotaging and cruel to one’s self.

The biggest reminder that they all boil down to is to write freely. Trust in the creative process – your creative process, whatever that may be. Write without self-imposed limitations.

And just keep writing.

The following quotes on first drafts from various writers show us that we aren’t alone in our struggles, advise us on what we should be focused on while writing them, and what we have to look forward to once we finish our beautiful and messy little monsters.

(If you’re struggling with self-doubt, check out my post featuring 11 quotes on creativity and self-doubt to ease the pressure and inspire you.)


First Draft Tips from Writers

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” ─ Jane Smiley

“It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.” ─ Will Shetterly

“Getting a first draft done is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.” ─ Joyce Carol Oates

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so later I can build castles.” ─ Shannon Hale

“You can always fix crap. You can’t fix a blank page.” ─ Christina Dodd

"You can always fix crap. You can't fix a blank page." - Writing tip from author Christina Dodd on writing first drafts

“First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about.” ─ Bernard Malamud

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ─ Erica Jong

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ─ Robert Cormier

“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” ─ Roald Dahl

“Very few writers know what they’re doing until they’ve done it.” ─ Annie Lamott

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ─ Terry Prachett

"The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." - Writing tip from author Terry Prachett on writing first drafts

“Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” ─ Michael Crichton

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.” ─ C. J. Cherryh

“No thinking – that comes later. You write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!” ─ Sean Connery as William Forrester in Finding Forrester

And the father of all first draft quotes…

“The first draft of anything is shit.” ─ Ernest Hemingway

"The first draft of anything is shit." - Writing tip from author Ernest Hemingway on writing first drafts

But here’s an inspiring one to remind us what we have to look forward to when we reach the end of that magical (albeit often hellish) first draft:

“Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.” ─ Nicholas Sparks

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Struggling through writing your story's first draft? Here are some of the best quotes on first drafts and first draft tips from writers who have been there. Struggling through writing your story's first draft? Here are some of the best quotes on first drafts and first draft tips from writers who have been there. Struggling through writing your story's first draft? Here are some of the best quotes on first drafts and first draft tips from writers who have been there.

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