You hear it all the time…

“This is garbage!” You exclaim, looking at the first draft of your novel. “Trash! How could I have written something this bad?!”

We’ve all been there. Well, if you’ve ever actually finished a project. If you haven’t finished your story, you’re probably stuck in a similar mindset, just 30,000 words before I was. Don’t worry. The First Draft Blues are normal. But that leaves a question…

How do you overcome first-draft blues?

I ran into this problem a couple of months ago as I finished up the first draft of my novel, a WIP titled Don’t Fall. I’d set it aside for about two months to complete Lawless. Then, once Lawless was published, it was time to do some editing before I moved to the next steps. I cracked my knuckles, opened my laptop, and began the first round of edits.

I got half a chapter in before it hit me that it…sucked. It was so bad. I hated the main character (he was tacky and selfish), and I realized that I’d left a ton of scenes completely under-described. I felt like a fraud. Like all the writing I’d done was worthless.

Fun fact: nearly 70% of academic professionals (including writers) struggle with imposter syndrome.

Looking back on the editing process, I realize I’d run into two very common problems.

Problem one: I was a straight-up bully to myself.  

The words we use are important. God himself spoke the world into existence. We have to understand, even outside of our writing, that what we say about ourselves is important.

The biggest issue with an out of control inner-critic is less about being critical of yourself and more about the nasty, mean, down-right awful things that you say about yourself. Stop it. Instead of bullying yourself by calling your writing bad, look at it and say, “This is not where I want it to be yet.”

Problem two: I needed to be perfect.

Perfectionism is the killer of growing as a person (read the article I wrote on perfectionism here).

The more you need to be perfect, the less you’re actually willing to grow to become better. You get stuck, wallowing in a ditch of self-pity. If you accept that you’re writing isn’t perfect, then you can go on to say, “Okay, how do I make this better?”

Because let’s face it. Your first draft is not going to be perfect. It’s going to have issues—sometimes major ones that will be very hard to fix. You have to decide: are you going to be resilient and face those problems, or are you going to give up?

When I reached a point with Don’t Fall where I wanted to give up, I started to pray, asking God how I could convince my editor that this project was terrible and shouldn’t be continued (I admit, not the best prayer). As I prayed, I fell asleep and had a somewhat wild dream.

The Jesus Meeting

In the dream, I was building a rollar coaster. At first, I had fun with it, but as I got to the end, I wasn’t really sure how to end it. My stamina ran out, and I did a half-hearted job completing the ride. As I looked at what I made, in the dream, I realized it was terrible. So many fears came at me.

“Nobody is going to want to ride this,” I whispered. (The metephore for Roller coaster VS book was heavy).

Suddenly, Jesus appeared. He stood next to me, a hammer in hand, grinned, and said, “I’m here to help you with your project! Let’s fix it up.”

He started adding things to it. But I’d already decided I wanted to give up, so as He added things, I took the entire coaster and deleted it from existence (don’t ask me how I did it; it was a dream). Once the entire coaster was gone, Jesus stood in front of me. Between us was a mural of the cross—His sacrifice. In the dream, I started to cry, and he walked towards me, hugged me, and whispered, “My grace is sufficient for any of your weaknesses.”

Your novel may, undeniably, suck. Bad prose, flat characters, tacky plot—you name it, God’s got it. His grace is sufficient.

There’s no denying that the editing process is hard. (In fact, if you want practical steps to take, read my friend Thirzah’s article on editing!). But you’ll never get past the First-Draft Blues if you bully yourself and expect perfectionism.

And you’ll never get past anything if you don’t accept God’s grace.

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