February 22, 2010

Writing Like Crazy: How Do You Write that First Draft?

Sometimes the hardest part about writing a story is conquering the blank page. I don't know how many times I've sat down to start a story--a wonderful, magnificent idea in my head crying to be free and to be heard--only to open up my writing pad or a new Open Office document and then freeze. Oh shit, how am I going to do this?

In my head, the story is great. It plays out like a motion picture in my mind's eye. And every time, I'm awestruck with the idea of turning that story out in written words. Despite any reasonable comprehension of the craft, I want the story to be perfect the first time I write it out. It never is, and I know full well it's silly to want think it should be, but there it is.

I think that's why probably the best piece of writing advice I've ever received is: First drafts are allowed to be terrible.

With those words, coming from more than one accomplished author, I have license to concentrate on getting the story out on paper without agonizing over the knowledge that it's going to need a lot of editing and fine-tuning. I can sift through the morass later, but I need to leave myself a trail of breadcrumbs first. Once the story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, I can look at the whole thing and better it in the second draft.

I've tried fixing the story as I go along. It works for some people, writing to a certain point then going back and fixing what they've written before carrying on with the rest of the story, but it doesn't work for me. When I start doing that, looking back at what I've done and breaking out my red pen to ensure everything is just right before I get on with the rest of the story, I end up sabotaging my own efforts. I'm like a serpent eating its own tale (pun intended).

So, I resolve with myself that each time I sit down to write a story I treat the first draft like a practise swing. If the story is there, somewhere in that longwinded, meandering mess, I can find it and clean off the ugly bits. And if it's not there, I can trash it and move on to the next story, and be content in knowing I didn't waste too much time.

Does that sound familiar to you? Do you write those first drafts in similar fashion, or are you a writer who makes sure it's done right the first time? Or maybe you've got another way of looking at it. If so, feel free to leave a comment. How do you write that first draft?

1 comment:

  1. I agree that first drafts are allowed to be awful. Otherwise, I'm screwed. My first two novel-attempts sucked balls. The ideas were good, but they just didn't come together.