Views From The Captain’s Chair- The First Draft: Hit Or Myth?
Really, I have nothing to say in this post, I just wanted to use the title “Hit or Myth”. Seriously, it was too good of a pun not to use. Is it a true pun, though? Or just a play on words? Or are they one and the same?
Answer: I don’t care, I like it.
Which brings me to the real meat of this post: the first draft.
There are a lot of very good writing resources, and very good writers, that state the first draft of a novel sucks. It blows. It is nothing but pure, unadulterated, uncut, shite. And they aren’t wrong. This post is not here to disprove that notion. Although I haven’t read many writers’ first drafts, so I cannot so for certain whether or not they do suck the hairy nuts of a ripe and smelly yeti.
But what I can say is mine don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, my first drafts can party with the best of them; they know the beauty of some good sweaty yeti nut suckage (Don’t we all?). It’s just that my first drafts aren’t the type of drafts that need to be ripped apart and then pieced back together. At this point in my career and writing experience, my first drafts are about 85% to 95% solid (with the exception of commas. I am comma illiterate,).
It’s that last little 5% to 15% that has the bees on their knees taking it from that sweaty yeti (I have no idea what that means, but it was fun to write!). Those bits and pieces of the first draft that don’t quite fit, that are out of context, that ruin the pacing, that are so factually incorrect that I have to wonder if someone didn’t sneak in and write those parts without my knowing. For me, those are the things I fix.
I don’t go back in and rip out this chapter or rearrange that chapter. I don’t cut characters and switch others’ motivations. I don’t suddenly decide that the setting should be the surface of mars instead of the surface of the moon. I just don’t do that. The novel I write is the novel I intend to turn in to my publisher. Why would I spend all of that time writing only to toss out what I’ve written and start over? That’s crazy talk.
Now, to be honest, there is that time thing. My 2014 schedule was writing a 75K word novel a month. Which is totally doable, by the way (I’ll save the details on that process for a different post). But a novel a month pace means I didn’t have the luxury of trashing my first version and starting over or Frankensteining the shit out of it until it’s a new creature. The novels were the novels and fixing the boo boos was my only solution.
That kind of pressure, and constraint, means I’ve gotten pretty damn good at sorting out my thoughts as I write. Do I outline? Somewhat. But I always deviate from the outline eventually. The story goes where the story goes. Yet I never try to force the story in any particular direction. That’s why, when it’s all said and done, the draft I have is pretty much what’s getting published.
But, what about my first novels? What about those novels that came before all my experience with cranking out pulpy goodness?
Same process. I’ve always been this type of writer. Even with my very first novel, Dead Mech, the version that was podcast was the version that has been published. First draft. Now, I did a LOT of editing along the way with that one because it was a drabble novel. Each section was tightened as I went. So there is that. But my second novel, third, fourth, fifth novels, all had one draft that I fixed and tweaked slightly then turned in. Done!
Would I go back and fix some stuff in those novels? Maybe. I’m sure I could. But why? I have great feedback on them and even if I did fix some things there will always be people that will find fault.
And that’s the key! There will always be people that find fault!
Trying to write the perfect novel is impossible. Impossible, I say! Why? Because reading is subjective. Once you are done and that puppy gets put out there then it’s up to the individual interpretations of the readers. And boy will they interpret! You could work for hours and hours, days and days, on a specific chapter, fine tuning it until it sings and there will still be folks that say, “Meh”.
That’s the biz.
And I guess that’s the main reason I don’t go back and rework everything: who’s to say the new version is better? I can’t. I’m too close to it. So I fix the typos (except the commas, because I just, can’t) look for continuity issues and then I’m done.
Done. Wipe my hands of it and hit send to my publishers. Bam!
What does this mean for you as a writer (if, in fact, you are a writer that is reading this)? It means your process is your process and if you feel good about your first draft then don’t mess with it. It’s okay to like it and think it isn’t a piece of shite. It also means it’s okay to hate it and shred it. Your process. Yours. No one else’s.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you crank out a crap manuscript and then argue with the world when they say it’s crap. Keeping a first draft means the first draft has to actually be good. That’s the catch. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean it’s readable. But with experience you learn what works and what doesn’t. I have more than a few incomplete manuscripts I’ve ditched because I knew I was wasting my time on something that wasn’t any good.
Did any of this help? I hope so. At the very least I want to expand your concepts of what can and can’t be done when it comes to your writing process. Want a quick hint? Anything can be done. There is no can’t. There’s just quality. And readers are the final judge of that.
So, that’s about it for this week. Next week I think I’ll dive into my actual step by step process of how I write a novel, from idea to submission.