First is the worst

By Laura King

There is nothing more refreshing than spending long hours hunched over a keyboard or a pad of paper to pry an idea out of the recesses of your mind and translate it into beautiful and carefully crafted language——only for someone to read it, crumple it up, toss it in the dumpster, and tell you, “Try again.” At least, I find it refreshing.

The words you painstakingly put on a page may flow straight from your heart, but they say love and hate are two sides of the same coin. So flip it. Use all that passion and stab, scratch, and scrape at your writing until you drench the page in red. This may not produce award-winning work, but you will at least have a better draft, perhaps unrecognizable from the first, that is ready to be ripped to shreds again.

I can’t say I’ve always been this masochistic. I skidded through high school largely on lucky first drafts and autocorrect. Believe me, I tried that crap when I wrote my first story for this very student newspaper four years ago. But my editors ripped it apart. And our advisor told me it was “pretty bad” at our first critique. People had always told me I was a good writer, and this was a slap in the face. I couldn’t help but feel defensive. But fighting past this emotion proved invaluable.

Critiques from my professors and editors have developed into an inner monologue my brain can produce every time I sit down to write. And every time someone points out a mistake in my writing, that voice just gets stronger. I could never say I, a college senior, am now a perfect writer—no matter how long I write, I don’t think I ever will be. But every time I internalize the horrific killings of my own penned darlings, I get better.

The first words a writer slaps on a page are hardly worth reading. It takes time to figure out how to articulate a point, and that’s a good thing. When you start to write, it’s totally fine to just let your ideas loose on a page. Don’t worry about structure or language or your eventual reader, just figure out what you’re writing. But don’t ever type your name at the top of that document and think your work is done. You owe it to yourself and to whoever you’ve written for to take these ideas you finally understand, and be purposeful in how you organize them.

Careful writing doesn’t seem to be a priority for most of us at Emerson—at least not in my circles. There’s a lot of ego (if we all go to a school focused on art and communication, isn’t being able to write, like, a given?), and a lot of brushing of said ego. As former Beacon opinion editor Madelene Nieman wrote last fall, even writing workshop classes—spaces that should be known on campus as the most ego-bruising to a writer—suffer a shocking lack of shredding. But if we plan on pursuing careers centered on communication, we better learn to take a beating for our work. Our readers, viewers, and fellow citizens of the world don’t care how much work we put into an article, script, or speech. They want it as informative, entertaining, or inspiring as possible. These are tasks that go far beyond a first draft.