‘Everyone’s first draft is crap’ — just get the story down on paper.
Well, everyone else’s first draft is crap. But not mine. No-Siree-Bob! Sure, a couple of minor tweaks here and there maybe, but my stuff will be mostly refined gold the first time.
Or so I thought until my writers’ group disabused me, rather brutally, of my illusions.
Turns out my first draft is crap, just like everyone else’s. And the key really is to get the story down on paper (so to speak in this digital age) first. Write first, then fix it. You can’t edit a blank page.
The problem is one that I’ve heard everyone suffers with — the always-on editor that lives in our heads. Mine usually says stuff like this:
- “She would never say that! Or that.”
- “That sentence is dreck.”
- “Hey let’s go back and re-order the last paragraph. It’ll be WAY better with a bit more work.”
- “If that dialogue was anymore wooden you could cut it up for lumber.”
- “You do know what a simile is don’t you?”
- “Oh Dear Lord, what were you thinking?”
- “You’re using that word/phrase/structure a lot — check that — way too much!”
I’m getting better at ignoring my editor when writing a first draft, but it’s not easy. Sometimes I will just splash stuff out on a page. I know it needs to be included, but I haven’t quite decided if it should be conveyed as dialogue, inner dialogue, description, or whatever. The point is to get it on the page in roughly the place where it will ultimately sit in the work (I think that’s what second and third drafts are for).
For a lack of a better term I call this stuff ‘bridging text’ because once it has been slapped down on the page, I can move on with the rest of the story, knowing I will be back to fix it later.
Here’s an example from Western Watch, the novel upon which I am working:
Charadell was groping her way towards creating an army, a task made more difficult because of the lack of written materials on how to proceed. A lack, Samretta knows, that had been arranged. There had never been very many of them, mostly old scrolls and aged manuscripts left from before the revolt. Most had been lost through the decades, centuries. After all, why keep manuals on how to prosecute a brutal, bloody, savage, male, enterprise? What few remained in the Watch had be hidden from Charadell, though by hands other than Samretta’s. Bloody hands nonetheless. She doubted the Goddess would draw fine distinctions when they were all called to answer for their actions.
It’s clunky, doesn’t really flow all that well, and at the very least it needs to be re-written so that it’s a bit more punchy. It could probably use some imagery and it may even require being teased apart and delivered as dialogue or in some other fashion.
But it’s there and now I can move on with the rest of the story. I’ll be back to it though.
My editor’s been nagging me about it for days.