Getting a Bit Drafty
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
A few words to live by, and to write by:
The vast majority of people who say they want to write a novel never complete their first draft.
The first draft of anything is crap.
Never show your mediocrity to the world.
At first it sounds like a whole lot of work, having to re-write an entire novel.
But these words comfort me. Knowing that I'll be re-writing anyway liberates the initial draft from being anything other than angst-riddled, delightful discovery.
Get it all out. Get it on paper. Don't edit while you write. Strive for progress, not perfection.
To be honest, I didn't always feel this way. I used to be a meticulous pre-planner / outliner. Not until I knew who everyone was and what they were supposed to do did I dare tackle the first draft.
And the story was entirely out of fizz by the time I sat down to write. Flat. Dull. Smothered by over-preparation.
Yet these days I still don't just sit down and start typing, seeing what my fingers want to say, hoping for the best. Hope is not a strategy.
No. Instead, I first work toward understanding the main points of the story.
To know the end is to know the beginning. Of the story. Of each Act. Of each chapter.
To write the first draft is to then move across those unknown spaces, those wastelands stretching from known-start to known-end.
The late William Goldman, Hollywood's favourite screenwriter, gave sound advice on process. He would work on the story - chew on it - until he can taste the twelve main sequences, could speak a word or two about each, and then pitch the overall idea in a single breath.
Now, that sounds like a lot of work before sitting down to write.
But it's the smart thing to do.
As a professional writer, the best defense is a strong offence - don't waste time and effort writing something that won't ever hold together.
Test your idea first to see if it has commercial viability.
Pile every scrap of related insight onto that idea to see what it can hold, then strip away everything until only the essence of the idea remains.
Let your subconscious create and solve story problems while you're busy tackling other things.
Then start writing it.
Write smarter, not harder.
Now that you know who's who and what's what - how it plays out - and you've enjoyed those sweet discoveries along the first draft journey, it's time to make decisions.
What stays, what goes, what gets changed.
Be very deliberate. Sometimes an entire chapter is just wrong.
Sometimes story elements are out of sequence.
Sometimes a character reveals their true nature later in the first draft; so amend their thoughts, words and actions to ensure they align with their true character.
Plant that gun in the drawer in Act I so it's ready to be grabbed during the struggle in Act III.
Acknowledge the visual motif of the colour blue and apply it purposefully to the appropriate points in the story. Not sure what she's wearing to the party? Well, perhaps something blue?
Point here is to smooth out the wrinkles while down-playing or augmenting the elements you unearthed in the first draft, setting the proper proportions on detail, action, suspense, etc. to ensure the story gets the telling it deserves.
Third to Tenth Drafts
No, I'm not saying you only need to do this many.
Get your trusted readers to look over the work, then review their comments for consistency, blind-spots they notice, and delightful tips they may add.
Update your work as required, as often as required.
Please, for the love of Pete, conduct a quality spelling, syntax, punctuation review before submitting for publication or uploading as an e-book.
You will thank yourself later for this thankless task now.
Regardless of the subject matter, the genre, even the theme, readers deserve to experience your story without tripping over improper spelling or punctuation.
Nothing bursts the reader's imagination bubble quicker and more thoroughly than misplaced, misspelled, or misused words.
And a burst bubble usually means a book thrown across the room.
Or in the case of e-books, an unfinished read forever doomed to the abyss of their Archive.
The work of developing a solid story is always worth it, whether you write for the world, your family and friends, or just yourself.
And sometimes the real work starts only after the first draft is finished.
Our mediocrity is our own, and we embrace it.
We just refuse to show it to the world.