Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Lesson of Shitty First Drafts

I used to think that writing was about getting it just right, the first time. I used to think that writers spouted genius and edits were just to hone their ingenuity. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but over the past month I’ve learned the lesson of shitty first drafts. And now I’m taking it to heart.

"Writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts." –Anne Lamott

It all started with NaNoWriMo 2012, because no one can write 50000 words in one month without most of them sucking. In that month, I wrote simply, without flare. I used common words and cliché phrases. The point was to go back and change it later. However, I didn't get that far. Even though writing a full draft with an inciting incident, character growth and a climax was a great accomplishment for me, something funny happened in December. I realized the story that I wanted to tell wasn’t in the words I had written. The characters were right, but the plot wasn’t.

So I set it aside and didn’t pick it back up until spring, when an idea sprang (hehe) into my head unannounced. It took me months to rewrite the plot. I went through numerous outlines and utilized at least three different outlining methods. And once I got close, I realized there was only so much plotting I could do before I just needed to write. Write the story, following my plot outline but not stringently.

"You have permission to suck, temporarily." -Chuck Wendig

This is when the NaNoWriMo lesson returned. I had thought the NaNoWriMo style of writing was for November only. But that’s not true. This technique can be used all year, as long as writers remember one important thing: these words are not permanent, and they shouldn’t be.

Because first drafts suck. They’re bad, ordinary and likely unreadable. That’s the case with most writers (not that I’m aware of someone who spouts brilliance on the first try, but they could be out there.) The point of a first draft is to get the words down. Just as the point of a second draft is to edit. Re-read and re-write. Re-draft whole paragraphs. Move things around. Do major plot shifts. Add new scenes. Edit. EDIT. EDIT!

Brilliance happens when you have the words to craft. When you’re just about ready to throw the whole draft in recycle, it starts to make sense. It’s not like an epiphany, all at once with angels and puppies and an uplifting tune in the background. It happens slowly, building momentum as you rewrite.

"Making a difference always comes down to momentum." –Jeff Goins

Or at least I hope so. I’ve felt inklings of that momentum as I power through my first draft, but I haven’t reached the everything-makes-sense-thank-goodness stage yet. More on my plan for NaNoWriMo 2013 later this month, but right now I’m writing crap. Editable crap. For the rest of October, I’m practicing for November.

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