Which Is More Important Writing or What We Write

Which Is More Important? Writing or What We Write?

The key thing to remember about writing? It’s about writing! The more we think about what we write, the harder it gets. We can talk and think ourselves out of writing far easier than allowing ourselves just to write. The mind of a writer is filled with objections because most writers are afraid of writing something that doesn’t make sense, or worse, writing something that comes across as idiotic or is considered arbitrary. Your inner voice all too often will put forth resistance, telling you that you don’t make any sense whatsoever and you’d be much better off doing anything, except writing!

Maybe you’ll recognize some of these inner objections:

Am I really a writer?

Am I any good?

Will anyone care about what I write about?

Does my story make any sense to anyone else?

Do I constantly repeat myself?

Do I over-edit?

Do my characters seem real? Do they have depth? Should I just go ahead and kill them all off now and give up writing forever?

Do I suck? No, I don’t. Yes, I do.

How bad do I suck? Bad! The Titanic sunk because it knew that I would be born and try to become a writer.

Why Writers Struggle So Much With Rejection

Writer's Doubt by Bryan Hutchinson

This post is an excerpt from Bryan Hutchinson’s book Writer’s Doubt (affiliate link).

One of the things my inner voice loves to tell me is that my writing is total and complete garbage and beyond any shadow of a doubt will be rejected. My inner voice isn’t alone, as so-called experts tried to convince me of the same things too. Fear of rejection is powerful, because at some point or another we have all been rejected for something, and we never forget the pain. The more times we have been rejected for anything, the more doubt compounds within us. This is an especially complicated issue for writers, because we’ve all heard the stories and watched the movies where writers get rejected. Some will even tell you that if you want to be a writer then you better get used to being rejected. It’s almost as bad as trying to ask someone on a date for the very first time. The possibility of being turned down isn’t just extremely high, it’s going to happen.

Have I made you feel any better about rejection? I didn’t think so. The good news is that the power of rejection holds less threat for writers today. You don’t need an editor’s approval to self-publish and you don’t have to send out thousands of letters to be accepted by any agent or publisher if you don’t want to. So then, what’s to stop you from writing and publishing your writing? Perhaps it’s the internal messaging system we all have that tends to tell us that when doing something, anything, it must be done in a certain way or it won’t be acceptable. Well, that may have been true for a long time, but when it comes to writing and publishing your work, you are now the-end-all-be-all if you want to be.

I think we hold onto memories of rejection because we try to avoid putting ourselves in a position of being rejected again, no matter what type of rejection that might be or from whom. Very few of us, if any, are completely free of this internal fear. All of us have our own way of dealing with it; however, to be truly free of the fear of rejection, one must come to terms with it. One way I have done that is to write for myself, knowing I can publish whatever I write if I choose to. That doesn’t mean I’ll sell a million copies or that it will attract a huge readership, but it’s still a freedom that gives me room to write. Blogging helps too, because it can be done regularly, in increments, and articles can be published privately first and then, when we’re ready, we can publish them publicly. Blogging also takes a while to gain a readership, so our writing is exposed to readers more slowly. As we gain more readers over time, we naturally gain confidence and eventually worry less about being rejected.

How to Conquer the Internal Editor One Word at a Time

At times, if you want to get past the internal resistance of your own mind, you actually have to give in and allow yourself to write whatever you come up with. Even if your writing seems like terrible, useless drivel no one will want to read, the more you write and get your thoughts on paper, or on the screen, or on your blog, the less power the internal nay saying voice has.

Writing rituals also help, which I’ll get to in a moment. Before writing, you might consider looking in the mirror and telling yourself you’re going to write the best gibberish you can come up with, and then challenge yourself to do exactly that! You may find yourself amazed at how much sense your gibberish makes when you read it back.

If you’re like me, then you’d like your first draft to be your only draft, but you probably also know that’s not what actually happens. Writing a first draft is mostly just getting your thoughts out of your head, but there’s a little more to it. A first draft often only makes sense to you, the writer, and it will need to be shaped and formed during the second and, perhaps, third draft. We sometimes heap unnecessary pressure on ourselves to write a perfect first draft. I don’t know of any writer who is ever completely satisfied with his first draft. I know I never am. It is the action of writing that matters, not necessarily the content itself.

The Most Important Advice Any Writer Will Ever Hear

I am willing to bet every writer on God’s green earth has been told his first draft is crap. Somehow we come to believe it and even tell ourselves this without ever considering the true mental and emotional impact. I refuse to join the chorus. Allow me to share something very important with you and it took me too long to realize it.

Your first draft is not crap no matter how far from perfect it might be.

I regret the many first drafts I’ve thrown away, because I’ll never be able to get them back. An idea is wonderful, but an idea written down is heaven. As a draft, it becomes a physical, tangible manifestation you can refer to and build on. Throwing away an idea, even symbolically, is painful and wasteful. I think all of us have woken from dreams and wished we had written them down, even if just haphazardly, and even if only to remember them later. How many dreams have you forgotten, but somehow the feeling that they were wonderful still stays with you? What if you had written about a dream while it was still fresh in your mind? What if that became your first draft? What would you refer to it as? I somehow doubt you would call it crap.

Think about it a moment. Consider how the word crap makes you feel (and I am using the “clean” version of the word). What emotional value does it provide? The first draft matters the most and it deserves proper credit. The belief you’re merely writing crap in order to be okay with the fact that it’s not “good” only serves to feed your doubts about your writing.

Every book, every article and every blog post starts off as a first draft. A first draft is when you turn an idea into some coherent form, when you’ve assembled your loose thoughts from notes collected on napkins, scraps of paper, or from your voice recorder. You know how painstaking this process is. Your first draft is perhaps the most important step to completing your project. It’s special. No one’s ever gotten to the end without the beginning. Crap is the last thing in the world that your first draft is!

I’m writing this because too many have come to believe that when they sit down and write their first draft they aren’t doing something crucial to the creative process. I mean, how important can crap be? Don’t throw away another seed before it has the opportunity to grow into something beautiful. Don’t discard the memory of another glorious dream before it can be realized.

Are You Consciously Investing in Your Writing?

I discovered this the hard way. If I don’t think constructively about what I’m writing, I won’t make the necessary mental and emotional investment it takes to see my writing through to fruition. Once I figured this out, I lowered my risk of falling into depths of writer’s doubt and became much more prolific. Your state of mind has a huge influence on your confidence and productivity. Today, when I sit down and write my first draft, I have the greatest respect for it. It won’t be perfect, and it certainly won’t be polished, but without the first draft I wouldn’t have anything!

If you want to feel better about your imperfect draft, then acknowledge that it’s incomplete and know you will shape it later on. It will take time and hard work. It won’t always be fun, but if it was just crap, would you want to put that kind of effort into it? I wouldn’t. What if you stopped calling it crap and started calling it by its true value? Would that change your perspective and increase the emotional value you place in your work?

Let’s be honest here, just for a moment. Between you and me, in the real world, what do you do with crap? I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with plush. You’re too good for that and your first draft is too! No matter how imperfect it might be and no matter how much work must still be done.

With respect and admiration for Ernest Hemingway, I prefer this quote by Michael Lee:

The first draft reveals the art, revision reveals the artist.

One Easy Path to Respecting What You Write in Your First Draft

Starting a new writing project is an exciting, mysterious, and sometimes nerve-racking adventure, so try not to limit your process. I have several ways I use to get myself started. One very effective method is talking to myself.

Do you ever talk to yourself? When you’re alone (I think you’ll really want to be alone for this one), go ahead and start talking to yourself. Talk about anything: how the day has been, why you didn’t do something you should have done, a situation at work, or whatever happens to be on your mind.

Here, I’ll help you with a couple of questions: What do you really want to write about? Is there a special story that you want to tell? Talk out loud to yourself about that story, tell yourself openly and honestly why you want to write it.

Now here’s the key to this exercise—while you’re talking, make sure you have a word processor open. Type everything that you say, every single word. Don’t look at the monitor. No, don’t do that! Carry on your conversation with yourself until you’ve said everything you need to. Try not to hold anything back. When you’re finished talking, then, and only then, look at the monitor. There’s your first draft ready to be fashioned into your story! It might not be perfect, it might not be exactly what you wanted to write, but it certainly isn’t crap. It is a start, and it’s your very own personal invitation to continue writing.

Like I said, writing is about writing and sometimes it’s not what we write, but the actual process of writing that matters the most.

Tell me your opinion: Do you ever have trouble respecting what you write? How do you deal with that feeling?

Which Is More Important? Writing or What We Write?

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About Bryan Hutchinson | @ADDerWORLD

Bryan Hutchinson is the author of the popular blog for writers Positive Writer. He's just released a stirring new book about overcoming doubt, Writer's Doubt!


  1. Slightly off on a tangent: You say “A first draft … will need to be shaped and formed during the second and, perhaps, third draft.” How did Moses, Plato, Augustine, or even Shakespeare and Dickens handle multiple drafts without a word processor or even unlimited supplies of paper?

    • Wax tablets actually, which are resuable. They were common in the time of Plato and Augustine. As for Moses, if you’re talking about the Biblical one, he didn’t actually write anything. His story was told orally and not written down until long after his death and after years of refinment.

      Shakespear was an actor who, with help from others, acted out his scenes over and over again (his own editing process). While he did write out some of his work, most was done from memory and improvision. Most if his work wasn’t written down into complete books until after his death by two close friends who didn’t want his plays to die with him. And they did edit them.

      As for Dickens, while I don’t know a whole lot about him I am 100% sure that he was an editor before he started writing his own work. So I think it’s safe to assume that he also edited his own work.

  2. Solid points.

    In particular, I’d say a key to this is that our writing isn’t “a” thing, it’s thousands on thousands of decisions, and the real work is always in the process. (Planning and revising count too.) There’s no one key moment where we are right or wrong, we just work our way through and keep going.

    If it’s “wrong” (and that in itself may only mean it’s wrong for one reader), the next word can be better, or the next draft or the next story. Anything else is bad Hollywood reasoning, cousin to “where do you get your ideas” –which makes as much sense as “Where do you get your scalpel, Doc?”

  3. Viktor, I get what your saying. This is an excerpt from the book. It is missing context and framing, which is the reason the post seems confusing.

    Sorry for the confusion. I should have framed the excerpt with an introduction and closing.


  4. Shahjehan Khan says

    I love reading your columns. And advice. Very useful . Thanks again .

  5. Actually, I’m pretty happy with my current first draft. I was shocked. I finished it a couple weeks ago and started my initial quick read, just to check the pacing and structure. I’m surprised at how little I want to change it. Mind you, I have 75% more to go, and I do tend to get wild toward the end, so we’ll see. But yes, I find that, when I let myself just write, I do alright. Confidence comes from doing and learning. It will come.

  6. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Bryan! I particularly loved this chapter of your new book.

  7. I really appreciate the article today. I’m just starting out and always looking for advice. For the last few months I’ve been doing daily 30 minute free writing sessions in the mornings and evenings, just to get the juices flowing and to turn off my internal editor. Although I expected nothing but crap, recently I am noticing more and more that some really good ideas are creeping into that writing.

    On the other hand, I notice that in my attempts at story writing, I just don’t know how to start. I sit there and I stare at the blank page and I feel like I’m getting no where.

    Your idea of “Type everything that you say, every single word. Don’t look at the monitor. No, don’t do that! Carry on your conversation with yourself until you’ve said everything you need to. Try not to hold anything back.” is great. Basically you’re saying I should take my free writing approach and bring it into my story writing time. Turn off the editor, type as fast as I can, and see what happens.

    I should have seen it before, but your post gave me the aha I needed. Thanks. I just bought your book, as well. Maybe I’ll find a few more aha’s and get the lift I was looking for.

    K.M. — love your blog and your structuring and outlining books. Thanks for all the help you give.

    • Thanks, Ralph. Please do let me know if you enjoy the book and if it is helpful to you. I love it when I get those aha moments! 🙂 Free writing is great for getting the story out of your mind and onto the page. You can take more time later when you’re rewriting. Remember, though, try to have fun. Writing is hard work.

  8. I always love to see more positivity in columns and books on writing. It’s one of those things we editors forget about sometimes in the midst of pointing out all the problems and all the work ahead: Writing is supposed to be fun.

    The bit about turning off your internal editor is far from an absolute–like nearly all writing advice, it depends on the particular writer (and it’s not something that has ever worked for me personally)–but if you’re getting stuck tearing down your own writing rather than making it better, it can be tremendously beneficial. I have a friend in my writing group who’s working very hard to do exactly that: Silence the doubt and finally finish a draft, no matter how good or bad it ends up being. Because it’s never perfect in the first draft. But you can’t get to the second draft without the first.

  9. Jennifer McGinnis says

    This post was such good timing for me, because I’m having the hardest time getting my chapter 2 written. My prologue and chapter 1 went so well, but now I seem to be mired down in all the writing advice I have read over the past couple of months and trying to make use of all of it while writing. Is this line of dialogue meaningful? Does it move the plot forward? Does it reveal character? If not, I shouldn’t write it. What to write instead? Am I doing enough planting ideas for the future? How can I add things like foreshadowing into this?

    It’s driving me crazy and I really need to shut that stuff up and just write! And realize that my first draft will be valuable, but to make good writing, I might have to ask those questions AFTER I get the first draft done – not of the chapter, but of the whole ding dang book.

  10. Exactly, you can’t get to the second draft without the first draft.

  11. Excellent advice Bryan! I’m considering purchasing your book. What you say is very true and inspiring, especially for someone like me who has this type of ongoing writing fear.

    • Thank you! The thing to remember is that the fear is normal. Now, the difference is what you do about it. And the good news is that there are things you can do about it.

  12. I enjoyed this post. Maybe because I’ve agonized about pretty much every post I’ve published on my blog, and I even deleted one recently (a few days after posting it) because it just felt too raw, and I wanted to revise it. Maybe cook it a little, so it’ll only be medium rare.
    I’m still trying to find my way with my blog and with my stories. I’ve taken the 500 words per day challenge by Jeff Goins, and that’s been a mixed blessing. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’ve also managed to dredge things up that I haven’t completely dealt with. I don’t really want to completely expose my thoughts on my blog, but thoughts are so much like smoke. Especially repressed thoughts. I can’t really see the shape of them until I write them down. Then I can make sense of them and deal with them. If I refuse to write them out, though, fearing the violence and instability behind those emotions, thinking I’ll go nuts if I give them the attention they want by putting them into written words, they make me sick.
    Stories are like that, too. I don’t always realize how much the past creeps into my story ideas until I just write them out without trying to make sure each sentence is perfect. Just writing, at least for me, is more important than whether I ever publish anything. But I also want to share and to reach out to others who are struggling with the same challenges.

    • Your honesty will serve you well, Sarah. The past has a way of creeping into our writing, so the choice then is whether we are going to let it sneak in, or are we going to take the initiative and go for it, write our own story and get it out of our minds and onto the page? I talk about this in the book and how important it is to tell our story, even if we are just doing it for ourselves in a private journal. Thank you for sharing with us, Sarah.

  13. I’ve been mired in the editing with a novel, so concerned with making it salable that I sucked the joy out of the process. No surprise, it showed in the output. I went back to an earlier version, written when all I wanted to do was tell the story, and it was like “oh, there you are!” If I get too fixated on ending up in the wrong place, I miss the chance of taking a random turn that leads to the world’s biggest ball of rubber bands. Who wants to miss that?

    • Jeannine, that happens to all of us at some point or another. The good news is that you caught yourself and recognize what you are doing. That’s important and a great step forward. Keep writing!

  14. So true! I agree- it really is about the process. It’s about accepting that writing takes time and getting in the right mind frame.

  15. I know I’m hard on my first drafts too, though I tend to save them and start a new file, mining the good elements I see in them. Some days, I want to throw them away but I’ve gotten better at putting the file aside until I give it some distance.

  16. I’m kind of torn on this one, because I see some writers (or maybe it’s the publishers) rushing to publish something that could have done with more editing. So, in that case, the ‘what’ is certainly important and could put me off future works by that author. But I also agree that sometimes you get so paralysed in the quest for perfection that you find it hard to write at all (the situation I am in now, as I embark on the 3rd draft of my novel) and are tempted to just throw everything away.
    I suppose it’s also important to remember that even literary masterpieces are sometimes flawed and cannot please everybody.

    • You’re right, Marina, nothing and no one is perfect. There comes a time when you have to let go. I think sometimes, as writers, we are harsher on books and other authors because we are so hard on ourselves. Sooner or later the time comes to let go and let be.

    • If you sense that something is wrong in your story, most of the time, it probably is. And those problems can be very tough to find–*especially* when you’re talented, because very talented writers often turn out work that does a *very good impression* of good writing. But I believe in our literary instincts, which is what I wrote about when Katie was kind enough to allow me a guest blog:


      The time surely comes to let it go, but if it doesn’t feel right and working the problem isn’t doing the trick, it’s probably time to bring in an editor.

  17. Barry Knister says

    Jennifer McGinnis has it right: nothing can happen until there’s a first draft. In this regard, I like a well-known catch phrase: all first drafts are perfect, because the only thing they have to do is exist.

  18. Barry, I absolutely agree. Read this when you have a moment: http://positivewriter.com/why-your-first-draft-isnt-crap/


  19. This is great! Just what I needed. I got up to nearly 60,000 words of my first draft before I started overhauling from the beginning. It’s been a tough story to write, and I’m desperate for any help — mental or otherwise — I can get. Thanks for this!

  20. Thanks for sharing this. Very useful indeed…


  1. […] Which Is More Important? Writing or What We Write? – Helping Writers Become Authors. […]

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