Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tutorial Tuesday - Writing Like Your Ass is on Fire: the First Draft

So here you are, ready to dive in and write your book.  You know your characters.  You know your plot.  You've got an outline to tell you where you're going.  It's time.

I describe the writing of my first drafts as 'quick and dirty'.  I'm all about getting in there and banging out the story just as hard and fast as I can go.  Why?  Because at the start, inspiration is at a fever pitch, and I'm not about to waste that heady motivation.  It's sloppy, it's nasty, it's a five-dollar whore moving through customers at light speed.  I'm laying out the bare bones of this beast, building my Frankenstein monster and bringing it to life.

Forget about pretty.  Forget about lyrical passages that are sheer poetry.  Forget finding that absolutely perfect word during the first pass. First drafts aren't about that.  Just get it out.  It's okay if the story is ragged with gaping holes and shredded sentence structure.  I promise you, it will hold together for now. 

You don't want to slow down for anything.  At this critical point if you stop and think too much about what you're doing, you run the chance of losing momentum and bogging down.  Don't worry about perfection quite yet.  That's what the next two (and three or four) drafts are for.  This first draft is the utilitarian foundation of concrete and rebar, the steel girders rising to poke ugly fingers at the sky.  The stunning architecture and stucco facade come later.  So just write.

When you've got that first scene down, move on to the next.  Do not stop at this point to rewrite the first bit you scribbled.  I have a very good reason for this advice.  Going back is a trap, a veritable oubliette waiting to put your story out of sight and mind of ever being seen by the outside world.  I have known far too many would-be authors who wrote the first chapter of their books and followed up with WEEKS of rewriting that first chapter before moving on.  These people usually gave up on that story before getting a quarter of the way through.  Exhausted, dispirited, all motivation sapped from them they walked away, never to write anything ever again. 

Not only can you overwrite the first draft to an early death, you might do all that work only to later find  that the story veers in an unplanned direction.  Thank your bitch of a muse for pulling that trick on you.  Now you have to go back to the beginning to lay the groundwork for your new ending!  If you've already spent weeks on the start of your novel to get it just right, having to do a whole new revamp ranks pretty high on the Suck-O-Meter.  If you'd settled for quick and dirty, you wouldn't have so much invested, so much work to redo. 

And speaking of the story changing in midstream (which happens to me more often than not), if that happens, by all that is holy, do NOT go back and re-write the beginning yet.  Instead, write yourself notes as to what changes must take place during the second draft phase.  After that, crank back up where you left off.  Keep on picking those chapters up and putting them down.  Go, go, go.

Why am I pounding on this point to keep going no matter what?  Because it is so much easier to correct mistakes and polish a completed story than it is to complete a story!  When you have finished that first draft, rife with errors, crappy prose, and continuity problems, you feel on top of the world because at least you have it down.  You have lots more work to do, but by golly the story is there, and you're not fighting to yank it out of your head and splat it onto the computer screen (or notebook if you're old school). 

Once you have reached the magnificent conclusion of your opus, pat yourself on the back because you deserve it.  You have written a book, from start to finish.  Good job. 

Now take at least a week off.  A month if you can contain your enthusiasm and aren't under a deadline.  Let the story percolate in your subconscious while you walk away from it for a bit.  Start outlining your next project while the first draft rests.  Then when you're ready to come back for round two, you'll see it with fresh eyes, catching the things you missed on the first go.

But more on that second draft later.

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