In this article, Icy Sedgwick reminds us all that our first draft is just that, a draft, and gives us advice on how to keep that in mind and improve our writing.
If you’re anything like me, you probably spend a portion of your day keeping up with your contacts on Twitter. If you’re reading this blog, then many of your contacts are probably writers. As a result, you’ll probably see many tweets saying “Should be writing but playing Farmville” or “I’ve got too much to do to get any writing done today”. You might even be one of the tweeters saying that. There are a thousand reasons why a writer might not be writing, and that’s ok. You don’t have to write every minute of every day. However, when a writer has the time and the inclination to write but chooses not, I’d venture to guess that the writer is afraid.
Fear to the Dark Side leads
Yep, I said it. Afraid. They’re either afraid that whatever they produce will be rejected when it’s sent on its merry way into the submission system, or they’re afraid it will be so bad it won’t even make it as far as this system. If they don’t write, then they can’t inflict a work of colossal “bad-ness” on the world, and all will be well (we’ll ignore those writers who end up unleashing terrible books on the world anyway – at least they were writing!). So let me break it to you as easily as I can… if you never write, then you’ll never know how bad it is, but at the same time – you’ll never know how good it is, either!
Even the professionals start somewhere
I can’t help thinking that we’re so hung up on the books that we’ve read that we expect ours to look the same when we’re finished writing. We understand the process involved, but for some reason we assume when it comes to other writers, they give birth to fully formed novels that ooze perfection from every correctly placed semi-colon. We forget that the writer no doubt spent hours tearing out his or her hair when a scene didn’t work the way they thought it should, or that this very same book has, at some point, existed as a manuscript covered in red pen.
It’s called a first draft for a reason!
The term “first draft” implies that the manuscript you hold in your hands is not finished – hence it being a “draft”. The very fact it is called the first draft implies there are more drafts to come. This is because no one expects you to get it right straight out of the box – if they did, you wouldn’t be writing your first draft, you’d be writing a novel, and editors everywhere would change career. Your first draft is the product of your inner hyperactive toddler, the one that gets distracted by all the new things and the shiny possibilities, who leaves plot lines hanging, gets character names wrong, and decides to change narrative direction halfway through. It’s supposed to look like that.
The first draft is supposed to be exciting! Anything can happen – and frequently does! Humanity is a species that excels at making mistakes and then learning from them. So get stuck in, make some mistakes, and just run with the story. You can always go back (well, should go back) and fix things later. It’s ok if you write plotlines you never finish or switch allegiances between characters – no one need ever know, because you’ll smooth all these rough edges when you write your second draft.
It happens to all of us
Take it from someone who knows. I’m in the process of finishing a first draft for a novella and it’s a mess. It changes from third person past tense to first person present tense halfway through, there are currently no chapter breaks, and I’m sure one of my characters changed their name. My protagonist waited until I was almost finished to point out that he would like a different career – the one he suggested works better within the narrative, so I’m ending the book with my guy following his new career, meaning I need to edit the first three-quarters of work where he’s doing something else. There are plenty of other changes I’d like to make, but these are the main ones. Am I bothered? No – because this is just the first draft. I’ll go back and make my changes in the second draft.
Remember the cardinal rule of writing – you can’t edit a blank page. That blank page is just a piece of paper – whereas a first draft is raw material that can be honed. Michelangelo didn’t go to the quarry and find David embedded in the rock – he had to coax the statue out of the marble. Your first draft is that hunk of marble, and it’s only once you’ve written it that you’ll get to start chipping away to find the art inside. So go get your hunk of marble, and see what you can produce!