First Drafts Suck

September 29, 2009 at 5:39 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

First drafts suck.

Not only do they suck to write, they also tend to suck.

This was once all I saw. As a first-time novelist, I plodded through my first draft with bitter resentment and with no hope. I swallowed that ethereal phrase: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

After months of much angst, I essentially finished my first draft.

At that point, I stalled, feeling more resentment than ever towards what lied ahead: rewriting. Yes, my first draft was so sucktastic that I knew it required a total overhaul.

I am now four chapters into that total rewrite. And though the going is slow, I have never felt such bliss.

Despite the fact that I am rewriting every single word, save a few scraps of dialogue, it might be the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It’s coming out fast and good, and it’s one of easiest writing-related things I’ve ever done.

Why? What’s the magic ingredient?

The magic ingredient is this: one big helping of having the words there already.

That doesn’t make sense, you might think. I just said I’m rewriting every word.

But the big difference is that a first draft is like a foundation. Every word must be dragged and provoked out of your head. If you’re a pantser – that is, you write without outlining – you must actually come up with a plot right then and there. Besides storyline, every trivial, yet somehow important question must be answered. What exactly does Character A say after Character B snubs her? Does Character C stand or sit down during this scene? What’s the scenery like?

After the foundation is put down – however terrible, however simplistic, however cheesy – you are free. That’s the one word I can think of to describe it: free. You are all about making things flow. The level of work has reduced dramatically and you are all about rephrasing, about mixing up your sentence structures. You are all about giving Character A an even snappier response to that snub, about making Character C get up and pace around because you realize now, with the perspective of a finished draft, that that’s what he’d do. Things begin to flow, and you see your work beginning to reach its true potential.

And remember way back when you absolutely could not think of the right metaphor to describe those falling autumn leaves? It comes easily to you know, or it will soon, because the stress of needing to think of it NOW, while you’re writing it, is gone.

So, my lovely writers, remember these words:

  • Don’t get it right, get it written.
  • You can’t edit a blank page.
  • And DO NOT be scared of rewriting.

Thank you.

~ Emilia

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