top of page

Face it! You Have Permission to Write a Lousy First Draft!

Hey there dear friends and gentle readers! This is Joyce and it’s day 10 of NaNoWriMo (that's National Novel Writing Month for those of you not in the know). Are you attempting to write a novel this November? If you are, I’m here with some words of wisdom about first drafts.

First of all, this novel you're writing is in fact a first draft. It is not meant to be a complete manuscript ready to be shipped off to the publishing house on December 1. This is the rough cut – the draft that you write to get the ideas out of your head and onto the paper. So, if you find yourself overanalyzing every single word, sentence, and paragraph – stop that! All you’re doing is slowing down the writing process. How do you expect to make it to 50,000 words by November 30 if you agonize over every comma?

Realize that getting through that first draft is going to be hard work, but so worth it. I myself am currently struggling through my NaNoWriMo novel, but you know what? I sit down every day and I crank out my word count. Do I think the end product is very good? Not usually, but I think it has potential, and that’s what’s important. First drafts usually aren’t very good, but they have potential. Sometimes you are going to write absolute garbage and that’s okay. No one except you and your critique group is ever going to read it, so feel free to write as badly as you want. The goal is to get the story down. The craft and finesse comes with revision.

Know that revision is going to be your friend in the months to come. This is why you don’t have to agonize over every comma now – you can do that later. Once you have a fully formed first draft the real fun begins when you start revising that bad boy. You can move around the paragraphs, add dialogue, flesh out characters, and fully build the scenes that you neglected when you were rushing through that first draft. Or, if you were busy trying to make a word count, you can cut out all that unnecessary dialogue you wrote. While you cranked out the first draft in 30 days, you have countless days to work on revisions. Revision is the first draft’s best friend.

So, if you’re in the midst of writing your novel this November, don’t get discouraged by thinking it’s not good enough. It is good enough. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get the story out of you and onto the page. Tell your story, any way you know how and worry about the finer points of craft when the month is over. Just focus on your word count and getting to the end of the story for now. That’s half the fun of NaNoWriMo, after all!

What are your thoughts on NaNoWriMo? Do you think you have permission to write a lousy first draft? Let me know in the comments!

Joyce Ann Underwood is a blogger and essayist. Originally from Crescent City, Florida she spent her childhood on the back porch listening to the old-timers tell stories. This ignited a passion for nonfiction storytelling that she honed while studying creative writing at the University of West Florida. Her poetry has been published in the creative journal, Kairos and on the website HIV Here and Now. Her essays have also been featured on Offbeat Home. She blogs at and