Crafting the First Draft

By Vini Bhati 2020-09-08

What an invigorating ideation session! 

I sit down on my chair. My mental landscape is brimming with multifarious perspectives. Just as a dreamy artist, I float around the corridors of my creative palace, excavating anecdotes and memories to compose my story and become the Ernest Hemingway of my age. I pick up my pen and am about to start, and stop . . . I cannot muster any words. A fear lurks within me. 

What if it’s not perfect? What if it turns out to be what Hemingway called the terrible first draft?

Blank sheet alert!


Most of the time we are confronted with the fear of not producing outstanding masterpieces on the very first try. This drive to attain perfection prevents us from creating a mess, the clutter that Anne Lamott believes can become a “wonderfully fertile ground” to reveal treasures. 

So the goal is not to write the best first draft, but to write lots of solid first drafts. Slip into the skin of a carefree child and let your imagination run wild all over the page. If your characters wish to enter into a slippery emotional slope and ruminate over ten pages, allow them to release their sentiments. If your lead paragraph is going overboard with elaborate descriptions of your protagonist’s outfit, let it flow. Spare no details. Put everything on paper. Transcend your writer’s block by permitting yourself to make errors, or as Vonnegut would say “big and scrawls mistakes.” 

Eventually, you will start to find a method to your madness. As you revisit these seemingly disconnected ideas, tinker with perspectives, and explore new approaches, you will reach your cohesive picture. It took Hemingway 47 drafts to compose A Farewell to Arms. He relentlessly persisted, shaking the polaroid, not knowing the exact final picture. I wonder whether he must have been tempted to stop at “the Nada Ending” version or the “Live Baby Ending” version? How would the narrative have unfolded then? 


So the next time you sit down on your chair, your mental landscape brimming with multifarious perspectives, rejoice! You are confronting your arch-nemesis, the blank sheet!

Remember the words of Shanon Hale: “I’m writing the first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Let go of your fear. Lean into your pain and power, pick up your pen, and press on.


Also read: Tips for writing your personal statement