The first draft

“But…. how can I write my own recommendation?” I remember Apoorva feebly protesting. Clearly, she felt it was a preposterous idea. “Relax; you are just drafting it,” I had assured her, concluding the call rather brusquely.

“Sir, thank you sooo much!! This is my best recommendation!” Apoorva was gushing a week later. “But it is completely different from what I had sent!” she added with surprise. “Of course!” I said, with a cryptic laugh. It was an obvious case of what mystery writer Phyllis Whitney says, “Good stories are not written. They are re-written.”

The first draft, howsoever lousy, has invariably been my best friend in writing anything. In fact, didn’t Hemingway warn us that the first draft of anything is shit? But to be fair to Apoorva, her draft wasn’t half as bad.

I still recall my first ever serious draft way back in 1985. It was my first ever assignment, in my first ever job at NIBM Pune. It was a letter to some embassy. Having taken infinite time to complete it, I was on cloud nine to receive a glowing feedback. “This is excellent!” my boss had said.

Still under the spell of those magical words, I simply floated into the office next morning, only for the bubble to burst by noon. Those were not the days of email, so when my boss handed over the letter to me for despatch, I was shattered to notice that it read completely different, right from salutation to the signature. I felt terrible but didn’t have the nerve to ask.

Job after job, I kept creating the best drafts I could, only to find the boss’s final version differ from mine. But strangely, I never received a poor feedback. My emotional struggle with this paradox continued for years until I had my Zen moment of novelist John Dufresne’s beautiful articulation.

Dufresne says, “The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written.” This completely decoded the encouraging feedback from my bosses over the years, irrespective of the quality of my writing.

It is fascinating how any quality of the first draft works like a charm on the final version. If the first draft looks accidentally good, you become greedy and try making it great. If it’s ugly, you come back at it with a vengeance, and create its inverse. Either way, it’s a win.

So next time you need to work on a draft, just take it easy and summon up Pulitzer winner Jane Smiley’s words of wisdom, “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist.” I hope Apoorva reads this and deciphers my cryptic laugh.

Now that you have read the post till this point, let me assure you that arriving at this version has been a perfect example of “having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food,” as described by humourist David Rakoff. Trust me, you would not have relished the first draft.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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