The First Draft of Anything…

The first draft of anything is #shit - #hemingway by okun, via Flickr

It seriously is.

At the beginning of this year, I started to edit the first draft of my novel inspired by the life of my third great grandmother, and over the past two months I’ve begun re-writing it.

It wasn’t until I began re-writing and re-reading what I had written, pulling bits and pieces from the first draft and trying to find a place for them in the second, that I discovered, wow, this really is a piece of shit. While I had been writing it, I kept thinking while tapping away at the keys, WOW! This is AMAZING! There’s nooo way I can ever make this better with editing! This thing is ready to go! First try = FABULOUS!

No. No. Not even close.

After I finished the first draft last November during NaNoWriMo, I locked the manuscript away from myself and didn’t open it again January. And I’m so glad I did. I needed the space to remove all traces of it from my mind…so that I could brutally murder everything I thought was so magnificently wonderful about that shit-acular first draft.

Needless to say, there’s not much that survived to live on in my second draft. Funny enough though, the pieces I have kept are the ones that struck me out of the blue. A word change here or there to put on a finishing touch was all that was required. Because when something hits you that deeply and interrupts your life and you have to sit up, get up, and record your thoughts before you lose them because if you don’t you know you won’t survive, those are the pieces that you keep, the pieces that pump the lifeblood through the story.

So while the same general idea I had to begin with remains, the flow of the story, the characters behavior and emotional depth and the dialogue have all changed, and most definitely for the better. I can see the entire novel in my mind. I know what interactions, what challenges, and what rewards will happen to each person and when. And knowing all of this, makes the writing each day easier and easier. Writer’s block, begone!

Writing this novel has been a complete eye opener for me. When I finished my first complete novel nearly four years ago, the process I followed was different. I wrote and rewrote so many times and in so many different chunks while I continued to finish the story that by the time I was ready to edit, I simply had to cut and paste the book into the correct order. Was it any better or worse a process? I haven’t yet decided. It took longer, more time was invested and it was incredibly frustrating at times, but I finished it. Mind you, it still needs some polishing, but that’s for another day.

Everyday, my writing teaches me something new. I’ve learned that you have to write a shitty first draft. Just to flesh out the bones. The voices in your head may have been speaking to you all along, but it’s in that first draft that you figure out what the hell it is their really saying.

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