Monday, May 20, 2013

First drafts, you know what people say about them



Things aren't going as fast as I'd hoped with my current WIP. Ah yes, so this is where most of you say “Eat your words! It takes three months to finish your first drafts, I. Think. Not.”

Well, who knows, but for those of you keeping track, I am just past the half way mark for the time, and just under the halfway mark for the actual novel. This would seem to be a recipe for disaster, but writing is a funny business, and I suspect that I’ll catch my 18th wind here any day now. Why do I sound so confident? Because I’ve been here before.

So that makes it easy, right?

Umm, no. Not at all. In fact, last week, I’d have told you that there was no way on God’s green Earth that I would finish this book this millennium let alone the next six to eight weeks. So what changed?

Are you ready for this? Whenever I write a rough draft there is this thing that happens: I want the novel to be awesome in the first draft. No really, I feel like the more I write, the more incredible my first draft should be. I feel like I've gotten better, and at some point in my life my first drafts will be ready for prime time. As in, I'll just slap them together and throw them back out into the world, because I'll be a great writer, so my first drafts will also be awesome. 

I’ll warn you now: this way lies madness.

Let me be frank: My first draft sucks. All first drafts suck. But it usually takes me about 35K words before I can go through the week of moaning before I suck it up and start to move on. This time it took a little longer (two weeks for those of you keeping count), but the end result is the same: I give myself permission to have a crummy, sucky, I’d-rather-lick-the-bottom-of-my-shoes-after-running-around-the-duck-pond first draft. That is to say, I follow Maureen Johnsons’ Permission to suck video. If you haven’t seen it, go HERE and watch it now. First drafts are terrible. As in they are so awful that there is nothing worse.

The hard part about this, is that we are writers and we want our writing to be awesome. When it isn’t we start to think that the reason is because we suck. Nope! That’s not the case. Every first draft is an opportunity to stink up the literary canals with hideousness. As a writer, your job isn’t just to write a first draft, it’s to turn the first draft into awesomeness. That means editing and revision. In the mean time, write something. It won’t be pretty, but a crap draft is a billion times better than no draft.

Say it with me people: First Drafts Suck.

And of course, the only way to write the stupid thing is to give myself permission for it to suck. Recognize that it’s going to be so bad I’ll probably have to rewrite the whole thing (and boy-howdy, this one is going to need more spit shine than all the shoes in the Navy!). Which is to say, it ain’t easy, so cut yourself some slack and write that hideous first draft.**



**I think it’s important to note that not everyone has the same process, and pretty much mine is to rewrite the whole effing book, so if that doesn’t work for you, find something else. This, however, is how I write. As in, the only books that have “worked” for me were written like this.

16 comments:

  1. My first drafts are nothing more than a detailed outline. It takes several rounds of revisions before it resembles anything but.

    Stick with your process. It works for you. Go with it!

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    1. I try to think of mine that way too, but for me it's more like my first drafts are maps. They aren't publishable maps, and some of the places aren't accurately depicted. Then I fix some of the technical stuff, clean up the rest and viola: better (note how I don't say great).

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  2. I think I state this on a daily basis, and in the blog-o-sphere, at least once a week. I'm right there with you. I've got a 5 week deadline, 30K done, and 50 to go, and this story wants me to throw it in the street and let it get run over, multiple times. But I won't. I will love it. Yes. I will. We can do this!

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    1. You know, I totally think you can pound out 50K in five weeks. It's not gonna be easy, but it's the pace that people hit for NaNo. Also, it helps if you say FOR NANO! Just sayin.

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  3. I totally struggle with wanting to make my first draft beautiful! Oh gosh... and it always takes longer than planned... this process is CRAZY!

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    1. What I hate is that all of my novels go through this whiny phase where all I can think is "This is HARD! AND it's TERRIBLE." Sigh. At least I have enough experience to recognize this part of the process as the part that is supposed to suck. Now more words!

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  4. My first 'draft' usually starts in so many fragmented pieces it takes a few more drafts to get to 'first' status!

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    1. I love your take on it. One thing about having strong ideas when I start, is I get really detailed plots.

      Bad things: When I have to inevitably change the whole she-bang, then it's like carving out blocks of cement to make my new igloo. It's harder to move because they seem really solid. So maybe the fragments make that part more malleable.

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    2. I love your take on it, too. It takes me a few more drafts to whip mine into first raft shape, as well. I've just never known how to work it so cleverly.

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  5. I know this! I know this! BUT WHYYYY do I keep hoping/expecting a good first draft?!?! Sigh. I really needed this.

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    1. Yeah, this is why I have to go through the whiny phase. One of my crit partners asked me "So, are you at the part where you want this book to at least be in better shape than your last rough draft?" I said yes. She laughed. "Even if it is, you'll still have to edit it as much as last time."

      This is why we all need crit partners.

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  6. You can do it! Pound those words out and show that draft who's boss!

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  7. Rena, I love this. You've very kindly given me advice about first drafts before in blog comments and I have found that this approach really works for me! I was obsessed with creating something so near to perfect that I could almost have submitted it straight away and every time I felt that wasn't happening I gave up and started something else. Now I'm doing just what you talk about here - just writing the bloody thing! I have come to understand that the true craft comes in at the re-writing and editing stage when WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN is taken out of the mix. I'm a much happier writer now. Love this post!

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  8. I know what you mean, even if it sounds like madness. I harbor this ridiculous notion that if I put more time into my first draft, it will be in pristine, ready to query shape. Wrong! Very wrong! It's only after I give up the mad notion and allow myself to write a draft that sucks that I gain the momentum to push through. Weird, how that works, huh?

    Good luck. Sounds like you get things done quickly.

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  9. I do it too, I try to make my first drafts perfect. It is madness.

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  10. I am so glad you shared this! I'm sitting on so many few sucky first drafts that I'm beginning to second guess the whole writing thing--as in, my first drafts are so much worse than everyone else's, so I must not be cut out for writing at all ...
    So, I'm not alone!
    Keep writing! Finishing that draft will be awesome.

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