Writing a first draft is like a night of heavy drinking with mates: it seems like a lot of fun as it happens, but when you look back on it you will cringe in shame at what you did, and wonder why on earth you now have a membership card to the local croquet club. Okay, well maybe that last one doesn't fit the metaphor, but the fact remains; when you finish that first draft and finally lay down your pen, your feet will barely touch the ground for the rest of the day. You will feel indestructible, elated, on a constant rush of endorphins . If you've ever intended to take up jogging, right then is the time because you could run a marathon then and there and still have the energy to go clubbing afterwards.
You will instantly deem that first draft a classic-in-waiting. It couldn't possibly need editing or tweaking: it's art! And even if it did have imperfections then that is all part of the charm, yes?
Alas, this is exactly why you should not even touch that first draft for at least two weeks. If you come back to it earlier than that to re-read it, you will still be dazzled by that warm afterglow of finishing your first draft. Because you have to see your first draft in the cold light of day for what it truly is: a glorious mess.
And all of this is precisely how it should be. It should absolutely be like a glorious mess. Because far too many people take writing that first draft seriously. I mean, you should take it seriously, but it’s a different kind of serious we’re talking about here. Because not only is finishing the first draft a huge achievement in of itself but it also displays the courage, whether you were aware of it or not, to write badly. Seriously, huge congrats for that. You have overcome one of the biggest hurdles of aspiring writers everywhere: getting a third or halfway through a book and losing heart and thinking that their work is not good enough. And they stop. Worse still, they will scrap the whole thing and start all over again, only to be thwarted at the same point once more. They are forever doomed to write in limbo like a tidal wave lapping on a beach hoping to one day reach the promenade to buy an ice cream, because they don't realize the irony of their thinking: yes, your book isn't probably good enough. That's exactly the level it should be for a first draft. And for goodness sake, don't judge your book's worth at the halfway point at least: that is where you are most likely to find a lull in the story!
But you, first drafter, recognized the need to power through! To turn your nose up at the judge nagging at you, and not be afraid to write crap. To simply get something down on the page that looks like a rough shape of what you hope the final product will be.
No other medium of entertainment in the world demands a final product from the get-go. Directors don’t get a load of actors on set and shout ‘action’ just like that. Musicians don’t just walk into the studio and play album-ready tracks. And you shouldn’t expect your book to be readable by anyone on the first pass. But you shouldn’t be scared of that fact. Think of your readers when laying down that first draft, sure, but don’t imagine them actually reading it. Once again, I come back to the fact that you should only write for yourself in the first instance: you know what you’re after, and you’re less likely to beat up on yourself than some imaginary reader of critique you’re aiming for.
Once again, I will say: writing is a rowdy night out with friends (the first draft) followed by a raging hangover and the post-mortem of the night before (the edit). You have to have them in that order, and just like you can’t really interrupt a good night out with deep introspection, you shouldn’t worry about the mess of a novel you’re making at first. Get to the end of that first draft and savour that euphoria that comes with it. You’ll need all the joy you can get before you descend into the editing process proper.