The First Draft Lesson

Derek
February 8, 2016

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This week’s been an interesting one for my writing.

I write crime fiction, which I think is heavily reliant on plot, and as a result, before I start writing, I always have a plot (and several sub-plots) mapped out, from beginning to end.

I write a detailed sketch of some scenes that means I’m doing little more – when I get to them – than adding in adjectives and adverbs (which, in editor mode, I will delete in the first draft), and funny lines or character quirks as I come to them.

Then, by the time I’m writing the book, I can let my imagination run riot, creating new scenes, comic asides and expanding on the characters (which are based on character sketches that also run to over a dozen pages) safe (sort of) in the knowledge that I won’t end up hopelessly lost or backed into a corner by a rambling subplot.

The sketch for the book I’m currently writing runs to 48 pages, and yet, still, some days feel like carving basic shapes out of marble using a toothpick.
So this week, between Hong Kong and a small town South of Auckland, in weather ranging from freezing fog to stone-splitting sunshine, has been like this:
This is hard.
This is shit.
This is easy but shit.
This is a first draft; it’s meant to be shit.
This isn’t bad.
This is shit again.
This is actually really good.

And then, today: This is so good I never want to stop.

But I did, because the sun was shining, I had the cutest kid to play with, my hosts had been super kind, and because I didn’t want to become known as  the unsociable writer who came to dinner and never spoke to anyone and because, of course, I’m on holiday, and I know – now – that I can get back to that place.

Eventually.

The lesson – which I shouldn’t really have needed to be reminded of – is the oldest one of all: First drafts are allowed to be anything from Genius to Shockingly Bad. What they are not allowed to be is unfinished.

I’m closer than ever to having a finished first draft, and though I know that some of what went before will need reworking (or, possibly,even jettisoning) I’m going to focus on that finish line, just ahead, and waiting to be crossed.

Then, the real work can begin.

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