necessary mess

How professional writers embrace necessary mess

The very best writers are those that have learned to love “necessary mess” as part of their writing process.

First drafts: A necessary mess

Have you have ever looked at something you have written and thought “oh dear lord, what is this rubbish?” – I know I have. Here is a secret – even the best writers feel like that.

What looks like an unredeemable slurry of words is simply your first draft. It does not look like the polished finished product of your favorite author. Of course not. That’s because you never got to see their unreadable first draft.

When you start writing, your ideas might not be in the right order, and your words may come out less than amazing. That is normal.

From a non-linear, non-subject point of view, it is more a sort of wibbly-wobbly…

The creative process was never meant to be perfect. That’s why writers spend so much time editing. But to get a full book down on paper, you make a huge mess and then clean it up after.

Getting it down on paper to make it pretty later – that is what almost all of us are doing.

Great writers love the necessary mess

That initial mess is not just an unsightly thing that artists hide from the world. The mess at the start is a vital part of the creation process. It is necessary.

Stephen King’s process is, from what I read, one that takes three entire drafts. That is remarkably few. Many writers, when asked, talk about the number of revisions they take before they even start on things like spelling and punctuation. One to get it down, another for settings, another for character, perhaps another for plot consistency. Even at this stage, few writers would consider the story even close to finished.

Those revisions are not because they were made by bad writers. The human brain simply does not create in straight lines. Whatever we write, no matter how good, will require polishing to discover the hidden gem inside.

Great writers all have one thing in common – they have learned to love this process.

How can you learn to love necessary mess?

It turns out the answer to that is really simple.

Are you ready for the secret? Here it is – just realise that what you have written is not finished yet.

The minute you stop comparing your early drafts to the finished works of others, that is when you will stop seeing your necessary mess as a failure and see it for what it is – the beginning.

There is no rule that says you have to even be coherent in your first draft. Take this post, for example. I wrote this section last. On reading it back, I realised I had not answered the opening question very well. So, I polished my necessary mess.

I have tools that I use that show me just how bad my first draft is. Rather than feeling bad that what I wrote sucked, I see those failures as points to work on.

Mess begets creation

Your initial mess of ideas is where you make last-minute discoveries.

One day I sat down to write a vampire story. The story was a load of rubbish (trust me on this). However, part way through I discovered a bit character called Jack. Jack is someone that I have kept. Versions of Jack have cropped up in most of my stories since. He is the main character of “That story with the cat in it“. Jack was discovered from the necessary mess of earlier work.

For every short story that I work on to completion, there is another one that is sitting waiting for a chance to be used. Jack’s story (the one with the cat) contains a large number of those messy, broken ideas. I could not have possibly written that story, in that way, without the mess that went before.

Like many far more talented writers, I love the necessary mess of early drafts. I’m not going to show them to anyone but they are part of my process.

That necessary mess is part of many other writer’s processes too.

Just roll with it.

Perfection is a lie

Very few, if any, writers have ever created something perfect on the first or even second attempt.

Perfection is a lie. There is no such thing. There is only mess that someone has polished to a shine.

Go and make a glorious mess.

If this has helped you feel better about your necessary mess, please share the heck out of it wherever other creators of necessary messes gather. 

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