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Even geniuses do terrible first drafts

By September 13, 2022September 21st, 2022No Comments

My 1970s editions of The Lord of the Rings

Even geniuses do terrible first drafts

Thanks to everyone who read down to the end of the newsletter last week, and threw their hat in the ring to be an early early reader of & feedback-provider for my new book (it’s coming out June next year). 

Three things have collided. First, I am writing and rewriting and re-rewriting drafts of my new book. Regular readers will know that I shared the first draft with Kendra a number of weeks ago, and she came back with some great big picture insights and structural suggestions.

I took out the chainsaw. In the course of a few hours, my manuscript went from 22k words to just over 13k. That’s a lot of sunk cost, time, and effort, and wordsmithing that’s ended up as “paper” on my “floor.” But so it goes. You only get a great book (or most anything you create) by lots of creating and a great deal of fierce editing.

Second, Amazon Prime is about to release their pre-Lord of the Rings epic, reportedly the most expensive television series ever made. Third, and related to that, I was listening to one of my new favourite podcasts, The Rest is History, talking about J. R. R. Tolkein and the Middle Earth he imagined.

And in that podcast, I discovered that Frodo’s first-draft name was Bingo – Bingo! – while Aragorn, the returning king who is first introduced to us as Strider, was first-draft named Trotter.

Somehow “Bingo and Trotter Go Save the World” doesn’t seem like it would have really caught on.

  1. R. R. Tolkein had some TERRIBLE names for his characters in his first draft. But he pulled it together – no doubt feedback from his friend C. S. Lewis over a pint of ale at the Eagle and Child pub would have helped – and did OK with what he finally produced.

Wherever you are in the work you’re doing, know that there’s every chance that this is currently a draft, and it will only get better.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.