Your first draft has permission to suck!

Stephen king remembers adding another rejection slip to the nail under the rafter above his tiny desk in his loft room, “Then I sat on my bed and listened to Fats sing ‘I’m Ready’. I felt pretty good, actually. When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.”

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Q: Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl in the toilet?
A: Because the ‘P’ is silent.

your first draft has permission to suck

I thought this was funny!

Where am I going with this?

The lead character in Death in Paradise (series 5:3), DI Humphrey Goodman, is a stereotypical bumbling, disheveled Englishman solving murder cases on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie.

He is lonely.

Encouragé by his islander colleagues (it’s a French island), he creates an online dating profile. That evening, having solved the crime, the murderer safely behind bars (cue the Agatha Christie formula), he is getting a lesson from his colleagues on how to talk to women.

The challenge:
“See if you can make Catherine (the proprietor at the local bar) laugh. Women love men who make them laugh,” suggests DS Florence Cassell.
The result:
A joke about the toilet habits of a pterodactyl and a bright yellow cocktail spilt all over his shirt!

Le voilà! His first attempt to make a woman smile looks like it may have been a resounding failure.

Or was it?

une étape à la foisUne etape à la fois, the saying  goes – one step at a time.

Sometimes, as I look around, I am overwhelmed by the talented, confident people I know who seem to be self-assuredly achieving all their goals with ease. They work hard and climb their various ladders juggling mortgages, marriages, children, running marathons, speaking at conferences and cooking gourmet meals.

When I compare myself to what appear to be the facts about these people, I can only hang my head in shame. But, as in Death in Paradise, the Saint Marie police team usually find that when they do a little digging, things are not always as they seem.

At the start of the year I confided in Hubby that I feel I’m not really good at anything that really matters. Really, I’m just dabbling. Apologies for all the reallys. I dabble in French. I dabble in journalism and writing. I dabble in charity work. I dabble in blogging. I dabble in marketing and advertising at the office. I dabble in running. I dabble in film and theatre critique … I dabble in life.

Dabbling is challenging and there’s always the risk of being exposed as a fraud.

Personally, I’ve almost come to terms with being a dabbler, but I was recently encouraged by three conversations I had, which suggest there may be more dabblers out there than just Hubby and me.

First, a good friend suggested I get advice from his wife about selling my writing ideas to publishers. “No ways,” I said “she’s a pro (she writes for the Sunday Times even). She wouldn’t understand my fears and my lack of confidence!” “Actually, she often feels exactly like you do and questions whether she can really write. She’s only recently started pitching her own ideas to her editor,” he confided.

I didn’t know.

Secondly, I had a Skype chat with another friend, who I consider to be truly amazing. She does missionary work in South Africa. She confided in me that she never feels “good enough”, that she compares herself to a colleague who “does everything well” and that this is a constant challenge for her.

I know these thoughts.

Finally, two weeks ago, I sat at my desk staring at the wall paper. Three articles to write, a scary telephonic interview to conduct (more on my phone fear another time), increasing commitments at the office, a BCJ assignment looming, French homework piling up.

In my catatonic state frozen at my desk I couldn’t even type one word. Familiar procrastination ideas sprung to mind. “I could do some house work,” I thought.

Thank God, like one of those nail-biting, Who Wants to be a Millionaire moments, I chose a life line – my journalist sister.

first draft“Your first draft has permission to suck,” she told me “I have that reminder written on a piece of paper stuck to the wall above my desk.”

So simple.

Hubby and I have decided that this is The Year of Dabbling. One prayer at a time. One step at a time.

I’ll leave you with a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit,  a wonderful source of Hobbity advise for dabblers near and far:

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.”

Happy dabbling!

P.s. Let’s rate DI Goodman’s jokey ‘chat-up line’ on a scale of 1-10. 1 =  terrible. 10 = perfect. Please vote in a comment at the end of this blog, giving reasons. With only 5 episodes in the season remaining and no women on the horizon apart from the pretty, DS Cassell, where do you think this will go?
P.p.s. ‘Your first draft has permission to suck’ does not only apply to dabbling in writing. I find it helpful advice for all kinds of dabbling.


4 thoughts on “Your first draft has permission to suck!

  1. One attributed to Churchill resonates with me – “If you are going through hell, keep going”

    And, I truly relate to the problems with dabbling, feeling like a jack, instead of a master. Finding and the chasing the things that we are passionate about is, I think, the thing to do, to drive us from our modest dabbles, but when the trappings of daily life keep us from those very passions… Well, that’s my reason for being a dabbler…

    I had a gentle groan at the pterodactyl yolk…


  2. Not only does your first draft have permission to suck, but it more than likely will suck! Thank you for this article. It’s a relief to know that I’m not the only one living in fear of being “found out” and unveiled as a fraud! Good old-fashioned insecurity haunts us all, it seems. Looking forward to your post on phone calls- I’m afraid of them too and generally don’t answer unexpected phone calls (even from people I know).


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