Friday, March 18, 2011

On sloppy first drafts

My thoughts, let me show you them.

I've read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. And I understand her point about first drafts. Here's what she writes to introduce the second chapter of her book:

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.
And I know lots of people who interpret this statement as meaning that one should simply push ahead, writing down any old thing during the first draft, then fixing it later. Heck, I know several writers who do just that - pedal to the metal, full speed ahead, damn the torpedos (sort of NaNoWriMo-style, now that I think of it).


I find it's just not how I work, even if it's how I plan to work. My intention when writing my current work-in-progress (contemp. YA romance based on an Austen novel) was to forge through fast and fix it later, but I find that doesn't always work. For the scenes that do basically what they're supposed to do, it's just fine. There have been a few scenes, however, where what I wrote fit the "chubby outline" I created, but just wasn't right. I don't mean "close to perfect"-right, either. I mean the tone or content or expression was just off.

And each time that has happened, while I'm busy trying to forge ahead, I find that moving forward feels like I'm dragging someone along with me. Whoever he or she is, they're big, and they've got their hands around my ankles, and it's damned hard to move at all. And I struggle and flail, trying to trudge along, expending tons of energy but not really getting anywhere.

I have learned to pay better attention, and to respond to that feeling by doubling back to find out where those hands grabbed my ankles. And then, I figure out how to fix it. Sometimes I write myself a big note in the "Document Notes" section on Scrivener to tell myself what I need to work on during the next draft (when I know that I left a little something out, but it's not entirely essential) and most of the time I add, subtract or revise what's there. The point is, I figure out what went wrong, and what needs to be done to fix it.

In every case where I've doubled back, I've ended up with something so much better than what I wrote the first time - and something that allows the next scene (or three) to trip merrily along.

And then I realized that this is my process for writing a shitty draft. Because even shitty first drafts require work. More power to those of you who can boldly go where no writer has gone before without looping back to rework things on your first draft - it would be nice, I think, to be able to do that. In the meantime, I'll keep prying those fingers loose from my ankle so I can get back to skipping.

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