The Writing Life: First Drafting

I’m supposed to be writing my first draft right now. And looking for a job. We’ll talk about jobs later. Right now we’ll talk about writing a first draft, instead of doing it, because dealing with other commitments is a real thing that must be managed, and this blog doesn’t write itself.

I have historically characterized the first draft as the fun part of writing, when everything is new and exciting. You may have a plan, but you can feel pretty free to change it should whimsy and/or a great new idea strike. First drafts are hopefully treasure troves of “Eureka!” moments, where something not outlined occurs to you and just makes so much sense that you sit in your chair and giggle with glee. I don’t have one of those upright walking desk type things, I really should, but a long time ago I invested in heavy oak furniture, and the combination of it and the remaining space in my office (yes, I know how lucky I am) does not leave any room for health preserving devices. Other than an electric coaster designed to keep my tea warm. It keeps the bottom third tepid.

Writers have a lot of things to say about first drafts, I like Terry Pratchett’s take, acknowledge Neil Gaiman’s, laugh ruefully at Ernest Hemmingway’s, and take what solace I can from many others.

I have a love/resent relationship with my first draft. I can’t say hate, because why hate your own creativity? I don’t resent my creativity either; I just resent the work that sometimes needs to be done! But let’s stick with the love for now: I love the excitement of the new, of putting flesh onto the bones of my outline, and being pleasantly surprised by the beautiful additions I find necessary to add that the outline forgot to include, and that enrich the story or characters immensely. (Those “Eureka!” moments.) I love finding a new voice, and writing scenes where I get emotionally involved, really feeling the writing as I go. As a writer you have to hope that some of that feeling is transmitted. You need the craft and the skills to do that, and I’m loving the opportunity to try new rhetorical devices, linguistic flourishes, the whole shebang. I love the challenge of trying something new, and trying to better what you have done before. I love being able to just go for it and write with freedom, knowing that excess fat, overindulgent darlings, and dodgy timelines and plotting can be fixed at a later date, once I have the spirit of the thing down on paper, the rough beginning, middle, and end.

I resent that it’s taking so long. I resent realizing that I have to insert this extra scene because this is the only place I think it will fit, and I really wanted to get to the next scene that I imagine will be more fun. I resent that the fun scene, when I get to it, is more technically difficult than it appeared from afar, and can’t simply be torn through in an hour. I resent my particular inability to not write in a linear fashion, I can sometimes write scenes out of sequence to keep the word count rising, but my preference is not to. I resent knowing how much will be cut/revised into near oblivion, or that what I think are perfect jewels of sentences and paragraphs will be discarded because I was having too much fun writing them and they don’t actually help the story or themes along. I resent fixing that timeline when I could have stopped and worked it out as I drafted. I resent getting stuck over a sentence when you are supposed to be able to barrel along and not worry about such things as it’s ‘only’ the first draft. I still don’t want to vomit poorly written prose onto the page this time out, as it will only cause me more work later, so I try to write as well as I can now, and minimize as much as possible the nuts and bolts revisions of the future. The dream is to not have to rewrite at all! (No laughing at the back!) I resent thinking of it as ‘only’ the first draft, probably a hangover from when I thought the first draft was the completed book and that all I needed to do was a quick grammar check and it would be ready for the public. Halcyon days of youth right there, but the point is that a first draft isn’t ‘only’ anything, it is a massive first step in the right direction, and should be celebrated, not minimised, in my humble opinion.

So I’m conflicted, but the important thing is to keep moving. I’m entering the beginning of the climax of The Killer and The Dead’s first draft, 70K words in, 20-30K to go. I wanted to be done with it all by now, but missing a deadline doesn’t mean I give up, it just means I need to grind on, and get done as soon as I can. By the end of this month would be very nice, and keep me on track for publication by the end of October after all those lovely revisions and editorial passes. I’m staying accountable, and sharing this helps me stick to my goals, so thank you!

First drafting is many things, but in the end I think it is a joyful process, it is creation, it is engagement, it is words being used to try to convey ideas and emotions, to paint pictures, to amuse, perhaps to shock and surprise, and certainly in my case, to entertain. I still think it is the most fun for me in writing (despite those resentments listed above, some of which I may actually like, is that weird?), and I wish all other writers the best when next they face this challenge! Good luck!

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