First drafts

“The first draft of anything is sh*t.” —Ernest Hemingway

Don’t be offended.

Are you offended?

And do you think this is true? Does it have to be true?

One day, a few years ago, Louise Plummer saw me in the hall at school.

How’s your book? she asked.

Not good.

Why not?

I can’t get past the first chapter.

Oh shut up. Just go home and write sh*t.

I was offended.

I also didn’t want to do what she told me to do. Do you want to do that? Do you want to write a [I’m going to substitute crappy in here because I feel more comfortable with the word although I don’t know why. Why is crappy less offensive than [insert word here] and why do we substitute asterisks? It’s actually more graphic with the little symbol in there.  One time in group therapy . . . nevermind, that’s for another post (and I’m serious, there is a really good group therapy story.)] crappy draft?

At the time, I thought that was a bad bad bad idea. i mean I’d heard it before. Anne Lamott. Mr. Hemingway. My English teachers. Authors at conferences Etc. etc. BUT that wasn’t the way I worked. I was a revise-at-the-time-er. I wrote carefully. I liked the paragraph, the page, the chapter (or section–let’s not kid ourselves) to be perfect. Or at least feel perfect.

My first two published books were written that way. Slowly, meticulously, not crappily–at least in my mind. Which is what matters in a first draft.

The mind. The author’s mind.

So many things are happening when we create worlds. There are personalities to deal with, conflicts to ignite and then resolve, and a moving mess to push us to the end. That’s in the novel, the place where we’re toiling each and every day. This is all done while dealing with the real world: diapers and dinner and broken down cars and wars and bills and neighbors who wonder why you never mow you lawn and teeth [does anyone know a good dentist in Provo? For the whole family?]. It’s a stressful thing. Really stressful.

For me, I like having control. I like things to feel right. If I’m rushing through, writing a crappy draft, there are so many loose ends, so many things I’ll have to go back and fix and what if someone reads it and oh, this is just a first draft. I like totally rushed through that part. It needs so much revision. I’m so embarrassed. etc. etc.

So it’s a pride thing. Maybe?

There’s also the issue of never ever ever finishing a book. If you feel like it has to be perfect, if you tend to revise as you go (but let’s be honest, even if you do that, if you ever finish the book you’re still going to have to revise it over and over again), you might get stuck in the first thirty pages for all eternity. Or, if you keep such a tight hold of the manuscript, you may lose some of the magic that comes from letting it get away from you. Of letting the characters get in the way and ruin all your perfect sentences.

I don’t know. The only reason I finished the books that I have  was because of deadlines. I was forced to finish. Without deadlines, I am a hopeless thirty pager.

I am trying to relinquish control. Be okay with trashing fifty pages. In some ways it’s easier for me to put a finished novel in a drawer (and they are in there), than to back track and throw away hard earned pages in a WIP.

But I think in the end, I’ll have a better book. Or maybe not.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

Just writing a sh*tty* blog post.

*I really am so embarrassed I wrote that. I wonder how long I’ll leave it. I am such a wimp.

The end.




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12 responses to “First drafts

  1. leave it. you’re hilarious.

    Whether or not Hemingway had it right for everyone, he had it right with me. And it’s taken this crazy Nanocrime-o to get me to see it. If I try and get it all perfect from the beginning, I don’t want to add anything to my story that will require me to change what I’ve already written. Cause, you know, it was just too good to change–plot be damned. So I never got anywhere and my plot suffered. But this month, I’ve written 70–count em–70 pages so far. And I’ve got a plot, and I’m not afraid to change it. It’s exciting. Talk to me next month, and I might be crying, trying to go sift through it all, but for now? I love it.

  2. What is it about human nature, that sometimes the thing that unleashes the greatest creativity in us is simply the permission to create some real disasters? I love the “Nanocrime-o” misnomer, because parts of this Nano project I’m doing are Horrible, but the farther into it I go the more Awesome it gets. As a whole it’s still a disaster, but I think that with a good disaster clean-up, I might be able to salvage some pretty great stuff. Stuff that never would have made the page had I not taken the permission to create a disaster in the first place.

    • I know. It’s sort of like making yourself be bad. Just let it be bad and sometimes that’s so dang hard. But the end result is so cool–actually figuring out what your book is about.

  3. Elena

    I’m with you, AnnDee. Every sentence I write leads into the next and if I don’t craft it right, then I can’t move on to other sentences, can I? My first drafts feel like jigsaw puzzles. Which makes “murdering my darlings” in revisions feel like taking chunks out of the middle of the jigsaw. Very hard to fix.

    Still, Sid Fleischman claims never to have revised his books. Some days he only wrote a couple of words. Yes, it took him two to three years to write a 120-page novel.

    By the way, I read your books this year and loved them.

    And by the way, we grew up in the same neighborhood. Jarvises?

    Also by the way, I love my dentist, Steven Peacock in Orem. Great with kids.

    • Yes! We did grow up in the same neighborhood and I got reacquainted with your dad recently. He’s great.

      And Sid Fleischman really said that? He never revises his books? At all?

      We ended up going to a pediatric dentist because my three year old had an emergency gum accident but now he has a cavity and pediatric dentist wants to put him under and i feel sick. I am so bad at dentists. and I hate my kids in pain.

  4. I’m offended.
    eh, you know I loves you.

  5. I think it’s mostly true. But every now and then you can get something really wonderful. By accident of course.

  6. Ah. I haven’t read this blog in a long time. I thought: OK, today I’ll go through it and catch up and what do I get?? I much needed kick in the pants, because I’m a terrible revise-as-you-go-never-get-anything-finished kind of gal. So thanks. Really.


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