Drafts that suck

Are you about to start a brand new project? Is this the book that will be your best-seller? Are you settled in the perfect spot with the perfect cup of tea? Stop! Read this before you go any further!

I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90% of my first drafts. I find this hugely liberating.

John Green.

I love this quote from John Green, because it is so very sensible. Letting yourself off the hook and allowing yourself to create drafts that totally suck is one of the best things you can do as a writer. There’s always the temptation, especially at the start of a new project, to believe that this thing you are about to write will be the best thing you have ever written. This is a great motivator for some people. Other people fare much better when they just aim to write something. Maybe something better than their last project, maybe something worse. But something new.

What do we need in order to write?

On the first day of my creative writing course, one of the tutors went around the room asking everyone what they thought they needed in order to write. The replies were mixed. Moleskin notebooks featured highly. Good inky pens. A clean desk. Total silence. He then pointed out that writers (or wannabe writers) tend to fetishize the props around writing – hence the quest for the perfect pen, saving up for the beautiful Mac Book, finding the dream writing nook in your favourite coffee shop. And it’s pretty much all nonsense. Truly it is. You can definitely find ways to make your writing life more comfortable, and I’m a stationery geek, so I too will swoon at a really good inky black pen – but we don’t need this stuff.


We need some paper and a pencil. Anything else is a bonus. (I definitely don’t think you need a creative writing course either, though I had loads of fun on mine.) And oddly enough, having a pristine new notebook with all those clean pages just staring up at you can be off-putting. Faced with that, how do you begin?

Begin anywhere

The answer is to allow your drafts to suck. Pick up a horrible cheapo notepad and a cracked biro. If the end of the biro is chewed, that’s even better. Crummy is liberating. Just start writing. There is no pressure on your words to be good enough to warrant space in that beautiful notebook you got as a gift. You have no worries about refilling that high-quality fountain pen. I bet you a V-G Pilot Hi-Tecpoint you’ll get something good out of it.

Happy scrawling, friends.

The Lighthouse is here to help you

Whether you have a brand new idea, or have been fiddling with a text for years … we’re here to help.

About Sarah Stewart

Sarah Stewart is a Director at Lighthouse Literary. She was previously Fiction Editor at Scholastic Children's Books and a Senior Editor at Floris Books, and she writes the Elspeth Hart series, published by Stripes.