Writing the first draft is a wondrous experience for the most part. You have all these ideas swirling around you that you want to incorporate: characters that seem cool, smart, funny, and sexy; places that will make your readers long to travel there (or stay as far away from it as possible); a plot so Machiavellian, you wonder if you should be examined by a psychologist… The possibilities are limitless.
You know what’s wrong with a first draft though?
The possibilities are…limitless.
You can literally spend years penning the first draft of a novel. I have been victim to the process many times over. The error of our ways is that we don’t just bloody finish it! We get to a certain point in the draft and a masochistic thought pops into our brains. “I’m going to read it from the beginning to see how it looks so far!”
Don’t do it. Don’t give into the temptation!
There are very few of us with the kind of self-control needed to get through reading our partially written first draft and NOT decide to change something about it. There are always inconsistencies. You’ve realized that you had your character, Bill, stuffing his face full of fried chicken in the backyard barbecue scene in chapter 8. But as you read chapter 10, you realize that Bill has suddenly vanished from the rest of the first draft. Granted, Bill isn’t your main character; he’s not even your secondary character. But Bill is Bill. And the draft suddenly feels empty without Bill’s gluttonous presence.
So, you immediately scroll back to chapter 9 and start inserting Bill in places where he ought not to be. And pretty soon, Bill has his own subplot where he’s breaking into the FBI database in order to hunt down incriminating information on his neighbor’s dubious chicken farming activities…and there goes the rest of your book. Bill has ruined everything. Damn you, Bill!
The point? Unless you find yourself hitting a wall in your writing and you can’t go any further, don’t go making edits and revisions while you are still penning your first draft. They have the tendency to ensnare you, to get you caught up in revising everything right then and there. If you’re a perfectionist, you strive to make the first draft of your novel the most incredible thing ever. You want to save yourself the time and effort of having to do it all later. I’ve tried and failed to do this with many drafts and always end up abandoning them. I lose the excitement that I had when I started writing the book. It’s like trying to take an unfinished clay pot and mold it into Michelangelo’s sculpture of David.
“IT’S GOING TO BE MAGNIFICENT! IT’LL BE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING EVER!!!!”
Finish your first draft. Take notes about what you’d like to change when it’s finished. Apply those changes when you have a full manuscript to dig into. That’s when your hands can get dirty, when you can tear down into it, and cut and paste and change as much as you want. It’ll be easier. You won’t have the unwritten ending looming over your head, whispering in your ear, “Finish meeeeeeeee…”
In much the same regard, it’s best not to bring your first draft out to writing groups for editing notes until later either. If you haven’t had a chance to go over your own stuff and you’re giving it to someone else to read, they are going to get bungled up on mistakes that you easily could have found and changed (if you’d revised and edited it). For me, I always feel better bringing at least a second draft to writing meetings anyway. I know then that I’ve found all the things I can find that appear to be wrong with it. Then, I won’t feel dumb if someone calls me out for writing “assorted assortment”. (That actually happened.)
I recently brought a chapter of my current WIP to my writing meeting. I regret it because I still haven’t finished writing the book, haven’t even had a chance to finish the first chapter, and haven’t wanted to start editing anything yet. And I’m already finding myself wanting to revise because I did that. I feel bad for my other writing group members because there were so many uncertainties in that chapter, things I hadn’t quite committed to and hadn’t had a chance to decide upon.
Don’t bring anything to a writing group that you don’t feel confident in sharing. There’s a bit of bravery involved with sharing anything you’ve written with other people. But it should be in a place that you feel confident about, a status that is now ready for other people’s input. You shouldn’t feel rushed. I am realizing that now and will share other things until I feel I’m at a better place with my WIP.
So, back to work all of you hard-working writers. Finish that first draft. Don’t let Bill the fried chicken-munching conspiracy theorist screw things up for you. (Apologies if any of you are named Bill and have proclivities to fried chicken.)
Until next time,