In a post titled Find It in the Edit, I mentioned that your first draft is going to suck, and that seven drafts into the writing process is halfway there.
I was making a point about the importance of editing. But I should have made another point: “The suck is normal. It’s almost requisite. Embrace the suck.”
This is the thinking behind things like National Novel Writing Month; it’s all about getting a draft out of you (quantity) and not about perfecting a draft (quality). The reason we need a monthlong holiday for it is that we’re very reluctant to let that dreadful first draft into the world. We can’t deal with how much it’s absolutely going to suck, so we don’t do it at all.
This is a big enough problem when it’s stopping you writing your Next Great [insert nationality] Novel. It’s worse when you’re a professional technical writer with deadlines, because all that time you spend avoiding that horrible first draft is time you’re not spending doing your job. Oh, you might tackle some small tasks here and there, maybe help a colleague with their horrible first draft, but that’s called procrastination. At some point, you’ll have to get to work.
It’s all about confidence. But not confidence that your first draft will be great – it won’t be; confidence that you can make something out of that literary roadkill. If you start pinning your expectations on drafts four and five, you’ll get through the first draft without a problem. It’s just a first draft; it doesn’t matter, and it shouldn’t threaten your ego. It’s okay that it sucks. It’s natural that it sucks. Write it, and move on.