Writing TCFDs: A Writer's Secret Weapon

by Shannon Crose

Spring is a time of year to open the windows of your house and let in a little fresh air. Air out all the stale smells of winter. Symbolically speaking, it's the time of year to let light into the secret corners of your mind, a time of rebirth. It's also time to let out a few secrets. Oh, I saw some ears perk up there. Nothing like a secret to get someone interested. Strap yourself in, because I'm about to share the most closely guarded secret in all of writerdom-okay, not that closely guarded, I won't have to kill you after sharing it. Ready?

All writers' first drafts suck! And anyone who claims to write a perfect first draft is the worst kind of liar. Or, a freak of nature. You choose.

Oh, so you think I'm being harsh? Well, maybe a little. But trust me on this one, ninety-nine point nine percent of writers write what is called "TCFD"; or "The Crappy First Draft." And the trick of being the writer who gets the crappy first draft finished and sitting all pretty-like on the bookshelf, is another secret. They give themselves permission to write the worst stuff ever conceived of... the kind of terrible writing that causes spontaneous eye bleeding. The successful writer shuts off that part of their brain that knows all the rules; they sit down at their computer and pour out all kinds of trite dialogue, unbelievable characters, convoluted plot lines, and all-out bad writing. And why do they do this? Because the secret to getting a book finished is letting it all hang out in your first go round.

Why, and how, does this work? This technique works for many writers because of the simple fact that it's hard to be creative when you have an inner editor-you know the one, the bodiless voice in your head that whispers all of your short comings-staring over your shoulder and telling you how much your masterpiece sucks. So, many writers, including myself, turn that inner editor off and repeat the following mantra; "I hereby give myself permission to write crap, absolute and complete crap, nothing short of crap will be allowed from this point forward."

So, here's a few tricks to getting that crappy first draft all done, and what to do with it when it is finished.

For starters, your first obstacle is that cursed inner editor and his (or her) constant nagging. Maybe that inner editor sounds like a teacher, or a parent, or you. Everyone has one, though, so don't worry about that. Writers are just weird people who can hear their inner critic so clearly they almost become real.

Now, my inner editor sounds like all of my English teachers rolled into one, and this little demon is so persuasive, I must admit he is hard to turn off. There are times I find myself hitting the delete key more often than any other, there are times when I'm convinced I'll never write anything worth another human being spending the precious time to read, and he has almost succeeded in making me give up on writing all together. Luckily, as I get a little older and the words flow just a little easier, I get better at telling him to shut up.

Here's the best way to get rid of the inner critic. Close your eyes and picture this cynic, give him/her a body, a form. What does he look like? What is she wearing? Bring him/her into sharp focus in your mind. Then, and this is my favorite part, picture a box, a box just large enough to hold that nasty critic. If you like, picture the box made of steel, kryptonite, or some other supper strong material. Add a few razor sharp barbs if it helps. Now, pick up the kicking and screaming critic, and drop him right in. Then lock it, sit an elephant on top of it, throw the box in the darkest, deepest part of the ocean, do whatever it takes to make sure that critic stays where you put him. Until, that is, you decide it's time to let him out (and you will need him later, so don't just kill him off right now, as tempting as that might be).

Now, free of the inner editor, you can sit down to write the worst stuff ever read by man, and that's okay, that's what you want. Repeat that mantra I mentioned earlier (the "I give myself permission to write crap..." mantra), and GO. Don't delete, don't run a spell check, don't worry about commas, just follow Nike's advice and DO IT.

Here comes the amazing part. You'll find that as you practice this, as you get really good at shutting up that inner critic. The words come so much easier, and-miracle of all miracles-some of it isn't all that bad. In fact, some of it is down right good. Especially as you get into the "flow" of the story, as you find that special space that is a writer's version of heaven, where everything is clicking into place.

It's easy to get discouraged sometimes, and sometimes that critic's voice manages to sneak out of the box and whisper to you. Don't give up, though. Put an extra lock on that box and keep going. Just tell yourself that any mistakes can be cleaned up later, and they can. The delete key was invented for a reason, because no one is perfect the first time around.

Now, you have that first draft pretty much done, you know there are some good parts, and you know there are a lot of parts that should be burned in order to spare mankind the pain of reading them. This is where the editing comes into play. Go back and find those good parts, highlight them in bright yellow if it makes you feel better. Now, find those parts that make you cringe, underline them, those underlined parts need to be fixed, but those highlighted parts are your bread and butter, the reason most writers get up in the morning. Those are the parts where you found the right words, the right emotions somewhere in the vastness of your mind. And you couldn't have found those without silencing that inner critic.

Now, I would like to show you this concept in action. I'm about to unearth a rough draft that should probably have been buried and mourned ages ago. I'm going to present this to you exactly as it is: lines drawn through, misspelling, bad grammar, and all. Please, try to keep your lunch.


The ghost never spoke to Lilly, never moved, or made any human gesture. It simply stared with vivid blue eyes surrounded by a wavering form. The eyes were alive even after the bodies lines had wavered, the face became foggy. The blue eyes always held her Lilly. Sometimes she the blue eyes held emotion, but Lilly suspected she saw what she wanted to. More often then note, they were vacant held detachment, as was only right.

On this particular morning they seemed to plead. The ghost's features were sharper then they had been in several years. Lilly could make out the high cheekbones, the proud lines fot the forehead and nose, the full mouth. It was as if the ghost knew what was coming, and found substance and power in it.

Lilly sipped her morning tea, closed her eyes for a moment hoping the apperation had haunted her for almost twenty years would leave her to her breakfast in peace.

She took a deep breath and opened her eyes again. The ghost still stood there across the table from her, staring unblinkingly. Just Lilly and the specters of the past in an opulent room, sharing tea and cinimmion pastries.

"Soon mother," Lilly whispered into her tea cup. "Soon."


Okay, that's plenty for now, the rest is too painful to share. Let's just say I didn't have enough of an idea of where this was going, and it sank into a pit of blackness soon after this passage. That's another aspect to this technique. If you are the kind of writer who needs to have an outline, and many notes, then do that before you begin. Knowing where you are going with a story will help to keep that critic quite.

As you can see, there are many grammar issues and spelling mistakes here, there are sentences that don't make a lot of sense, there are a few tense problems, and not quite enough detail. Not to mention that the overall read is just a little rough. Despite all those faults, I still like this scene and will probably use it again in a different project I'm working on. Writing is a continual learning process; you learn what works and what does not as you go. You learn that everything can be fixed in the second draft, and unless you're willing to share it, no one EVER has to read that crappy first draft. It's your secret, you're the only one who has to know how terrible it was. Thank the powers of the universe for that.

The reason the writing process is so mystical is because writers can't always explain the process without sounding like weirdoes, but there are some things we can share that is easy to understand. We are not perfect on the first try, no one is, and every writer needs those second, and sometimes third rewrites. It's what produces the stories we all know and love, that diligent refusal to let an idea go, the knowledge that writing that crappy first draft will let us get all of our grand ideas on paper. And sometimes within all the garbage, you'll find the gem. It's that gem that keeps me going, that keeps me shifting through the refuse of my mind. Trust me there's a lot of junk in there.

Happy crappy first draft writing.

Have these articles been helpful to you? Your donations enable us to continue to supply this free information. Anything we receive will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

© 2005, All Rights Reserved