Monday, April 19, 2010

The First Draft Is For You

Much as we want to believe that this time, we will only need to write one draft of a short story or a novel before it is publishable, down deep we know that if we’re serious writers we will never get off that easily. (There are benefits for the writer as well as the reader in revision, however, and I have discussed some of these on my Militant Writer blog.)

Because no first draft is ever going to be the final draft, creative writers (and most other kinds of writers, too) need to give themselves permission to relax at the first-draft stage.

The first draft is for you. At this stage, you don’t need to worry about your audience. Here you can just let go—write whatever you want to say, overwrite, get sidetracked and distracted. You don’t need to leave anything out because “people might not like it,” or “it isn’t written properly,” or because you know that you are capable of a better metaphor. If you know you are going to have to come back and rewrite anyway, you can leave unfinished sections and move on. You don’t need to worry about polishing sentences or making sure that your paragraphs aren’t too long. You just need to get the words down. You are free to get them down.

This is not to say that the audience is not crucial to the writing process. It is. If you ignore those you are writing for, as far as I’m concerned you will never write anything meaningful. But you don’t have to think about the audience until you get to the revision stage—in fact, it might be better if you don’t.

When you do start revising—or at least before you finish revising—you do need to include the audience in your deliberations. “Is this passage clear?” you need to ask yourself. “Are my readers going to understand why my main character is doing this?” “Are readers going to be bored by this repetition, or will they understand that I am using it deliberately—and why?”

The revisions need to satisfy you, of course, but they are also intended to ensure that your message and your story reach your audience in the way you intend them to receive it. But the first time through, you can turn your back on your readers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Praise of Revision, or the "four fails" of trying to write the final draft first

(I have written quite a long blog post called "In Praise of Revision" and posted it on my Militant Writer site. You can check out the whole post here Below are the first few paragraphs....)

When I was a new writer, I read a lot about how other writers wrote, and I became deluded into thinking that I could calculate how long it would take me to complete a writing project.

My reasoning went like this: if I wrote 500 words per day, I would be able to complete a short story in about ten days. If I upped the total to 1,000 words per day, I could finish a novel in 60 to 100 days, depending on the length of the novel. Those word goals seemed fairly modest to me, even a bit cushy: hadn’t I just been reading about writers who set themselves to write 5,000 words a day—and did it?

I got out my calculator and started pressing buttons. I reasoned that if I took a weekend off from time to time, and a week or two for vacation every year, I could still complete about a hundred novels and several collections of short stories by the time my 80th birthday rolled around. All I needed was the will power and fortitude to actually get the work done—and I was sure I had those in abundance. (I always feel that way before I start a project.)

It was then that I first faced what have come to think of as the “Four Fails” of trying to write the last draft first.

The first of these Fails occurred when I started my next novel. (It was my third, the first that would be published. My first and second novels had been abandoned part-way through, perhaps because they had failed to write themselves fast enough.)

I set out on the first day to write my 1,000 words, my schedule in hand and my determination firm. But I found I could not think of which 1,000 words to put down first—or, in fact, which one word to put down first. I told myself it was natural to feel this hesitation: with the schedule I’d set myself, a lot relied on the first word. The rest of the story had to ride effortlessly and smoothly on its back.

Continued here: