Writing a book can seem like climbing a mountain, right? We stumble, we hike, we fall, we hike, we get blisters, but we want to reach the top of the mountain. What we need to remember is–the first steps are the hardest. Once we get going, we also get creative. Bypass the rocks, jump over the stream, get lost and find your way, run from bears, edit the route, meander or stay on the trail. We find a way to the summit then we stand, inhale, and enjoy the view. But wait … now we’ve got to go back down the mountain. This is why you never send in your first draft.
“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” (Mark Twain)
I spoke at a conference once and mentioned that infamous suggestion. “Never send in your first draft.” Later a woman who’d been in my workshop came up to where I was signing books and said, “You should tell us not to send in our first draft. That’s an insult.”
Surprised, I asked why she felt that way. She said speakers always encourage writers to FINISH the first draft, and then once it’s finished we tell them not to send it in. Why wouldn’t we be proud for them and encourage them.
She has a point, but she also missed the point. The first draft is your worst draft. Never, ever, type The End and then hit send. A first draft is a celebration, no doubt about that. Save it, do cartwheels, eat chocolate and order new shoes. Then walk away. Let it simmer and stew, sleep on it (or sleep with it tucked underneath your pillow) and give yourself some space and time to debrief. Because, darling, your work has just begun. You thought you’d reached the summit, but you’ve only taken the first step. It’s a big step, an important step, but you still have miles to go before you hit send. Now here is why you shouldn’t send that baby out the door.
First, it’s your baby. You love every beautiful word. But you need to revisit those feelings and clean your baby up. Would you leave the house without the house keys? Would you go to church in your PJs. (Okay maybe these days with church being zoomed to us). But taking this first step means you also have to put your best foot forward and make your best first impression. An editor is like a lie detector. They can spot a hot mess from a mile away. You want to present them with your best FINISHED product. Not your first draft. That’s like baking the cake’s layers, but neglecting to put the icing on the top. Yes, we all want you to finish the book, because if you don’t finish it, you can’t send it. Editors like things finished, polished, scrutinized, analyzed, and clean. They expect this because the publishing world is a competitive, brutal trail that can take you to the top, or make you fall flat on your face in the rocks. You need to go back down the mountain and pull out your map again. Read it from a new perspective. Look at like it’s a tree and start trimming limbs or adding water and nutrients. Nurture the thing you have created, pamper it, fluff it, and make it pretty. Don’t just add words for the sake of adding. Edit and prune the words you have into the best book. Once you do this, you’ll be ready to send it out into the world.
And to my friend who asked, we tell you that because we’ve been through that first climb. Experienced writers didn’t get that way overnight. We started walking the trail, we pivoted, we twisted, we got lost, we got turned around, but we kept going until we made it to the summit. We didn’t quit. In writing terms, we learned how to take a first draft–a treasure that we created–and get serious about making it into a real book. Because, darling, very few first drafts go to print. They might get you a contract (it does happen) but then the editor sends it back for the real work–making the beauty in your words into a strong, powerful read that will go out for all to read, solid and sure. We’re actually doing you a big favor–finish the book, then start all over and edit the book. Just do it. You’ll avoid being discouraged from the get-go. That is just the first leg of your journey, bless your heart!
You wouldn’t start up a mountain trail with just water and a granola bar. You’d be prepared–hiking boots, first aid kit, hidden chocolate, phone to call for help, you get the idea. Your story has to be prepared for all the pitfalls that writing involves–the first being revisions and edits. You keep at it, growing stronger with each step. Until one fine day–you will walk into a bookstore or scroll through an online bookstore, and you’ll find the summit–your book with a wonderful cover, right there for all the world to see.
Isn’t that worth all the extra upfront effort? Rather me tell you that, than an editor. Me saying it won’t sting nearly as much as getting your first rejection. Trust me on this, darling.