Drafts and other piles of poop

I’ve just finish the fastest first draft I’ve ever completed. A little less than four months from putting my nose to the grindstone, then taking it off, then putting it on again, and – well you get the drift. Unlike some first drafts, I was not actually ready for this one to end. I had to stop because I was nearing the word limit for my genre and also because I knew, given no real deadline, I could just carry on with these characters. That’s both a joy and a curse because unless you’re GRRM, that ain’t allowed. How did I do it so quickly (for me)? Motivation, baby!! Not like #motivationmonday or the very real incentive of a story I think needs telling; an agent wants to read it when it’s done so I had to do it before she forgets I exist and my face, my story bleed together with the million others she’ll be looking over.

Some people think that because I’ve said I’m done with this first draft that they can ask to read it. Um, no. Not unless you’re in my inner circle AKA people who’ve seen me in my pajamas and lived OR in my writing group. There are writers out there who never share early drafts, not even with their agents. Why? Well, because all first drafts are kind of shit. The first time I heard this I felt very defensive. My first drafts aren’t crap! Now that I’ve written three books, dozens of short stories, edited a few more books and stories, and heard various numbers of drafts from other writers – I get it. True fact = the shitty first draft.

What I want you to know though is that I don’t mean that the first version of any work-in-progress is only a pile of poop. They are not. They are piles of poop with jewels and gems and gold pieces plus a few red herrings jutting out at odd angles from the stinking mound. If I’ve lost you with my vulgarity, think of it more how Stephen King puts it (though he’s not the only one and by the way he thinks first drafts should take no more than three months, but I think that’s for pros who live in Maine) in his book On Writing:

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

So, the first draft is a pile of dirt and you have to excavate. Does that sound nicer? Forgive my 13-yea-old’s sense of humor, it’s why I made a good middle school teacher and what makes me a fun parent of two boys.

I am now the proud owner of a 52 thousand word pile of dirt that I am currently trying to avoid. It’s sitting in the middle of my head and I have to walk around it a lot but I also have to not touch it. Right now, it needs time to rest. The good stuff needs to ripen and the bad stuff, like repetition and missing links, need time to come into the light so I can see them. Right now, looking at my pile, it’s just one big mass. With time, I’ll be able to judge more dispassionately what’s good, what sings, and what needs to be axed or at the very least given a stylish make-over. It also needs to dry out get less stinky 😉 What I always find amazing about the breaks I take from a WIP is that secret brain cells keep working on it and when I sit down in a few weeks to look at it afresh, they’ll leap out of the shadows and yell “Surprise! We figured all this out while you were asleep!” Unless they don’t. Then I’ll have to get out the big chisel.

For now though. I have to check the bottoms of my shoes and leave the pile of poop behind. Get it. Behind? Ahahaha. (see also that writing intensively for months on end makes you loopy)

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