30 Mar

By June Hur

My worst nightmare has always been that I would wake up one day and realize that I was no longer a writer.

After sending in my Regency romance to an agent, I decided to start a new book. I rummaged my mind for the perfect story. When I found a possible one, I would be up all night planning it out, and would end up brainstorming the plot to death. The idea just wouldn’t be good enough. And so I’d search for another plotline. I’d brainstorm it to death. And on and on I’d move from one plot to the next. My critique partner told me I was trying too hard. And she was right.

The sad truth was this: After a year and a half spent on revising The Runaway Courtesan again and again—I knew how to edit a book, but had forgotten how to write one from scratch.

I have to thank K.C. Bryne for my state of overflowing enthusiasm to write again. A few days ago I met up with her at Starbucks after our English literature lecture. I told her the issue I was having, of how none of the plots were good enough. Her answer was simple: Write for the pure joy of writing, write for yourself.

Write for myself? I couldn’t grasp onto what the purpose behind writing just for the sake of writing was. Why write for the fun of it? Why waste my time? If I’m going to write a book, I wanted to know that it would be marketable, that it would be original.—This mentality was my stumbling block. My expectation for the manuscript was way too high for me to meet up to in my first draft. How was I to write if every sentence I typed out was expected to be a masterpiece?

The first draft of our book is like a rough sketch, a guiding map, to a work of art.

Observe a famous oil painter: the moment inspiration roars through him, he will sketch it out onto a canvas. And if we were to observe this sketch, one eyebrow would shoot up, and our reaction would be: What the hell is this? We would only see a mess of pencil marks.

Just wait. Be patient.

The pencil markings will disappear, as the brush strokes paint across the canvas, the darker shades first. And we will cringe with confusion—THIS, a masterpiece?

Once the paint dries a bit, lighter shades of paint will then be applied (…or so my art tutor told me).

Then more hours will pass, perhaps even days, as the artist mixes the colours, brushes it onto the canvas, in light or heavy strokes, in dots or blotches.



A masterpiece has been created and it steals our breath away and brings tears to our eyes as we catch a glimpse of the divine beauty captured within each stroke of the brush.

But, with the perspective I had, placed into this analogy, I would have remained stuck on day one, sketching then re-sketching, getting nowhere. So the lesson I learned was: Do not expect a masterpiece by sketch number one. The point of the first draft is not perfection, but to capture the essence of that undecided, ambiguous yet beautiful story in your head.

Just write, write what your heart tells you to write. Your story, at draft one, might not be publishable. It might not even make any sense. But still—Just write! Worry about the plot holes, the grammatical errors, the character development, the theme, the marketability AFTER you have draft one. Don’t let that inspired imagination cool down while you edit paragraph one of your story over and over and over again. Let your fantasy unwind onto paper without being hindered by technicality—even though you might end up with a piece of trash that might require two years to revise. But the point, ladies and gentlemen, is to write for the pure joy of it.   

By Marion Boddy-Evans


June Hur is the author of The Runaway Courtesan. She is currently awaiting the response of an agent who requested her full manuscript. When she is not working on her next book, she can usually be found at a book shop, searching for a Great Love Story to read and analyze. You can follow her on Twitter or through her blog.

24 Responses to “First-Draft-Phobia”

  1. Victoria Dixon March 30, 2010 at 6:43 AM #

    Thanks, June. I have the same problem, though I don’t think I do this out of a desire for perfection. I think my problem is an awareness that I’m missing part of my plot and a fear that I’ll get stuck when I get to that part of the story, so I sit and wait for it to come. I was helped past that with my first novel because it was based on historical events. My next work will be, too, but it will be far more fictionalized than the first book. Hence, I’m researching – potentially far more than I should and I’m doing this rather than writing. After all, a writer is supposed to do this, right? However, seeing this post DOES help. You’ve given me a good kick in the pants. LOL

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:23 PM #

      Ah, I never thought of it like that. Historical fiction–you do have some kind of guiding map, a compas. You know where you’re going because the road as been travelled already. You just need to put in TONS of hours in figuring out HOW it was travelled.

      I’m not much of a perfectionist, actually. But I do expect that beneath the grammatical errors and historical inaccuracies and other issues, that gem of the story can still be seen. Yet, not knowing how this story will turn out, I’m afraid to move on. I’m afraid I’d be wasting my time on a story that won’t get anywhere. But I learned that I need to put aside this fear and just WRITE.

      I’m so glad this post has been helpful! …..and I hope the “kick in the pants” was not TOO hard 🙂

  2. svonnah March 30, 2010 at 8:05 AM #

    June, I SO needed to hear that right now. It’s kinda funny how you and I seem to be in the exact same place of the cycle 🙂

    From now on I’m going to think about this problem in terms of the metaphor you’ve provided: A draft is like a sketch, and there’s no way it’ll look like a painting. So don’t even try.

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:25 PM #

      I know!! haha! You also gave me hope by managing to start a new book!

  3. Caitlin March 30, 2010 at 9:05 AM #

    This is great June, a wonderful and helpful analogy.

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:25 PM #


  4. Kat March 30, 2010 at 9:09 AM #

    Great advice! It’s funny, I was so relaxed about my second manuscript and it worked out very well. So I should have known better when I tried a third, but no, I completely freaked out, planned like crazy, and then lost momentum after 2000 words, haha. This was a good reminder that I should just “let the words flow”….


    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:27 PM #

      The novel I submitted to the agent was actually not the first piece I completed. So, like yourself, I expected that I would naturally be able to start on a new project. But nope. I’ll probably have to write twenty more books before I no longer fall into panic mode.

  5. Rowenna March 30, 2010 at 10:52 AM #

    Great reminder on getting back to the basics–polishing can happen later, but you have to get something down first! And you’re right–worrying over whether it’s marketable, perfect, whatever only serves to kill what could be really good ideas. I think you have to be willing to write it even if it could never sell and it’s coming out awfully rough around the edges–that’s how you know it’s the story you need to write, I guess.

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:30 PM #

      Yes, back to the basics, haha. Back to the natural. Hmm reminds me of Rousseau. I’ve been reading lots of nature and Enlightenment these days. Ick.

      Anyway, I definately believe that the problem I’m having is my attitude towards writing. It’s changed. I once was able to BS a whole novel for the pure joy of letting my fantasy unwind. But once I started TRC, once I began dreaming of becoming published, and living off my books, my perspective changed. Writing became a business. And I need to learn how to return back to the days when writing was a guilty pleasure.

  6. Lua March 30, 2010 at 11:03 AM #

    Amazing –and a very helpful- analogy June, I loved it! 🙂
    “I knew how to edit a book, but had forgotten how to write one from scratch.”
    I’m having the exact opposite problem, I’m writing my first draft, I’m half way through writing it and when I think about the next part- the editing part, it terrifies me. I feel like I can continue writing the first draft forever but editing will be torture…

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:32 PM #

      I say: Write on!!! And don’t worry, editing is actually pretty fun. It’s so fun, so addicting, that you’ll be in the danger of forgetting how to write a book in the first place. Like myself. Because with editing, no amount of rounds you put your book through, you’ll find something else to fix up. So when trying to write a new book, you’re always wanting to fix it….even before there’s anything TO fix.

  7. cgwriter March 30, 2010 at 6:12 PM #

    This is the one piece of advice I need most. Thanks June! Wonderful article, the pictures really made it. :]

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:32 PM #

      I’m so glad this was of help to you : D I guess my phobia is somewhat universal.

  8. lepipette March 30, 2010 at 7:00 PM #

    Exactly. : )
    Every genius begins as a helpless infant.
    As does every story.

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:33 PM #

      Kudos to you, Madam Muse.

  9. Samantha W March 30, 2010 at 8:26 PM #

    It’s like you knew I was having this problem, and then wrote this post! Thanks! 😀

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:35 PM #

      I was actually a bit hesitant to write this article. I had no idea others suffered the same problem as myself! It’s good to know I’m not alone, though. It tells me that this is a common problem, and thus, that there is a cure for it.

  10. Praya March 30, 2010 at 8:36 PM #

    June. So hit the nail on the head it’s insane. And yeah just what I need to hear too. 🙂 There’s a difference between expecting a high standard from yourself when you write in general, and expecting something of marketable standard, of literary perfection. You can’t get to the end of the race before you start. Expecting that is enough to chase your muse away, never to return again!

    PS loved the pictures! 🙂

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:37 PM #

      Yay I hit the nail!

      You are so right. I couldn’t put it better: You can’t get to the end of the race before you start it.

      I’ll keep that motto in mind so that when I’m an old and wise writer I can repeat those very words to the next generation of writers 😀

      • Praya March 31, 2010 at 12:27 AM #

        Ahaha yay! As for me, I’ll keep the masterpiece metaphor for sure 😀

  11. Vanessa March 30, 2010 at 10:20 PM #

    I need to be told this ALL the time! Great post June!

    It might just be the editor in me, but I find it very hard to just find the willpower to get the bare bones of my manuscript out. It should be ugly and totally unsellable; but hey, no one but myself should see the first draft. Every now and then I tend to go back and edit my manuscript – which i REALLY shouldn’t do! And perhaps that is why it’s taking me so goddamn long to finish a manuscript (well, and the whole I-don’t-have-much-spare-time thing ;p)

    Oh, and loved the analogy between painting and writing!

    • junebugger March 30, 2010 at 11:40 PM #

      Hoo man. I have no idea how you manage to write past one paragraphwhen you have a job as an editor. Especially an intern agent who must read manuscripts critically. The fact that you’ve managed to write as much as you have–I admire you that. And, who knows, maybe you work best by editing lots before moving on. Some writers can’t feel satisfied with their work when knowing that behind them are chapters after chapters filled with issues.

  12. Emily April 5, 2010 at 3:55 PM #

    Wow- my mum was right!!!:) I self diagnosed myself with first draft phobia a few nights ago… Was almost creepy coincidental as she also said to write for myself- and for some reason, that really clicked. I really listened and heard her. But I am so glad I’m not the only one who overthinks plot and kills it- I’m glad that this isn’t just me 🙂
    thank you

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