Brief answer: Yes, it is 100% normal to have a terrible first draft. However, in this blog, I’m going to explain why and how you can move forward from it.
First drafts are meant to set the foundation for everything else that is to come. This means that they don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be there. Instead of asking yourself why your first draft is so terrible, commend yourself for completing it because that’s arguably the hardest part in the book writing process. Unless you planned everything out rigorously, in the first draft you can definitely expect plot holes, character inconsistencies, bad punctuation, and just generally poor writing. That’s perfectly fine though because you were just getting an idea of your book when you were writing it. Some people say that the first draft is you telling the story to yourself.
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” - Terry Pratchett
Therefore as long as you, the writer, understand what’s going on your first draft probably isn’t that bad.
It’s possible that when you review your first draft you could do a few drastic things such as:
Completely change the ending
Knock out a few characters
Add a few characters
Remove a few scenes
Add a few scenes
Change the genre
Change your main character’s hair color
But in the end, you’ll probably look back at that draft and giggle with love at how it was the sweetest and most creatively challenging part of the journey. First drafts are hard. They test our passion and our patience, but a completed first draft is a great one.
“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box, so that later, I can build castles.” - Shannon Hale
Additionally, as writers, let us refrain from calling our work terrible. Your first draft may be missing a lot compared to your favorite novel, or your previously completed projects, but it’s not terrible. It’s like the slight pencil sketches before a full-on oil painting. Instead of condemning yourself for your perceived shortcomings in your first draft, marvel at how your idea looks on paper and brace yourself for the evolution your book is about to go through.
Holding onto the notion that your first draft is terrible or flawed can hinder your inspiration to move forward. Completing a novel is an emotionally and mentally challenging journey, but as long as you take your first draft lovingly and run with it, all should be well.