Stop Comparing Your First Draft to Someone Else’s Final

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Writing a book is a long and arduous process. It takes months, if not years, of researching, exploring, and outlining before you even get to the actual writing. When you finally sit down to write, you’re left with an inevitable feeling of doubt: Your prose isn’t as fluid and magical as other books in the genre. Your stories aren’t as crisp. And on and on and on. You can’t help but compare what’s on the screen in front of you with what you’re reading in the latest best-seller.

We have this innate bias to see finished products and assume that’s how they always were. We implicitly assume the best athletes, writers, poets, and speakers always competed, wrote, or spoke with such grace. We mistake their final drafts for their first. I mean who has ever read the first draft scribbles of their favorite author? Or watched a comedian stumble through their first performance at a dimly lit comedy club?

We assume that Martin Luther King Jr was a blessed orator, not the reality of the man who spent countless hours every week crafting and refining his sermons before learning to let go and trust himself to find the words. Young athletes forget that the upperclassman they see accomplishing unbelievable feats was in their shoes a few short years ago, unable to get off the bench and find some playing time.

In my writing career, the best thing that happened to me was having the opportunity to read the first draft of an accomplished author. Someone whose final drafts were eloquent and magical, the stuff in my mind of impossible. Their first draft had all the ingredients there, but it was messy and raw. Not too dissimilar from my own first drafts.

The point is this: stop comparing your first drafts to others finished products. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, or a middle-school athlete to a college athlete. Things take time, space, and revision to grow. Allow yourself that time, space, and revision. A false bar sows unnecessary doubt or worse, makes you quit too soon.

Steve

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