Monday, June 11, 2012

That Dreaded First Draft

You may know that I've written a book. If you didn't know that, then you must not have been paying attention to all the times I mention it on this site. Which is a lot. Look at the sidebar; it's there several times. The point is, I've written it. It's written.

Now I'm writing another one. This second book is the next in the series. I'm more than halfway done with the first draft and I plan to be finished by the end of this month. Then I'll have a complete draft that I'll be glad to be finished with. I'll also be very afraid to read through it. Why?

It's going to suck.

Here's the secret to writing. The first draft is supposed to suck. It's all right if it's awful. The point is not to make it perfect, the point is to get it out there. You need that first, complete draft because you need to see what your idea looks like when it's actually in print. It's no longer an idea bouncing around in your head, it's actually something real, something that is tangible (sort of), something you can mold into your great literary work.

A lot of writers get so caught up in making every line perfect, every word the right word, that they never get past the first opening paragraphs. They have this fantastic idea for a book, but it stays a fantastic idea and never winds up on a page or a screen.So many great books have gone unwritten because a writer couldn't bear to deal with that first draft.

When you don't write anything, all your ideas are great. They're in your head, happy and carefree, away from anyone's cruel, editorial glare. When you put them on paper, they are exposed. You can see their imperfections, and for some writers this ruins those ideas. Very few writers can take pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, and perfectly translate their ideas in one go. Most of us have to suffer through a first draft and produce something we never want to show the outside world, ever.

Don't be discouraged when your first draft doesn't seem so great. Take pride in the fact that you finished it. You've done what a lot of people haven't managed to do, and it's an accomplishment no one can take away from you. Even better, that first draft can only be better from that point on. You take that misshapen idea and turn it into something better. You see its failings and fix them.You polish the rough edges and provide support where it's weak. Soon it's going to be a masterpiece.

This is why you need to get that first draft finished. There is no other priority. Don't worry about it being perfect, worry about it getting finished. You can go back and fix things once you have a complete draft to fix.

It doesn't matter if you're on the first page or in the middle. If you're having trouble getting that first draft completed, try to do what I do.

Don't write the book in one piece. It's too easy to go back and fiddle. Instead, write each chapter separately. I keep each of my chapters in a separate file. Once I finish that chapter, I put it away and start the next one. I keep doing this so I only move forward and focus on the immediate chapter in front of me. I remove the temptation to keep re-editing chapter one.

Of course, as I'm writing, I'll realize that I want to change something in a previous chapter. Rather than go back and fix it, I keep a lost of all the changes I intend to make. Once my first draft is done, I'll go back and change them. But not before.

There have been times when I want to make such a change it would alter everything in the book. Again, I don't go back and change the first chapters. Instead, I begin to write as if that's what I'd been doing all along. Yes, this makes the draft inconsistent, but that's one of the things I'll fix in the next draft.

This is the process I'm following now, and this is why I'm going to finish this draft. It won't be pretty when it's done, but by the time I've revised and edited it half-a-dozen times, it's going to be great. It works for me, and I'm pretty sure it will work for you too.

Get that first draft done and you'll be glad you did.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article Charles.

    That is actually some great advice. I had never thought about the whole separate chapter, separate file method. Seems like a good plan.

    It makes me think of an article I read recently that had a person asking a popular author about her advice on writing. She said something to the effect of, "Stop thinking about writing, stop talking about writing, stop dreaming about writing. Just start writing!"

    Good luck on your next literary installment.