Alice Soon

My Literary Life & other obsessions…

ON WRITING REALLY SH*TTY FIRST DRAFTS

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I’m 50,000+ words into writing my 2nd novel and then BAM!  I’m stuck.  The word pictures in my head become blank.  My hands stop typing.  I begin staring at the wall.  I start nervously chewing my non-existent nails.  I type a sentence, then delete it.  My word count stalls.  What HAPPENED???

Am I really experiencing a bout of writer’s block two thirds into the way of my novel?  Maybe, yes.  But more than likely, it’s what some writers have called THE-NEED-FOR-PERFECTION syndrome.

I’ll admit it – I’m one of those fools who continuously edits her first draft WHILE I’m writing it.  I print off every chapter or section I’ve written, and continue to edit/change/revise as I go along…CRAZY RIGHT? 😛

I have this irrational need to keep it perfect while I write a damn draft. Admittedly, this is probably not the best way to get a novel completed, but I can’t help this foolhardy behavior.  I’m nutty, I suppose, as all writers’ invariably are. 🙂

But now I’m seriously stuck.  I am not one of those writers who outlines before she writes a book – it spoils most of the fun I think…*BUT* I always have a general idea of the arch of the novel, all the main characters (most of the secondary characters), the novel’s themes and most importantly, how it’s going to end.  All of this I will know even before ever typing a word.  So what’s why can’t I keep writing??

Writing 3

Again, I think I’m getting into a “fuzzy” area of my novel where I’m not quite sure which way to go to get to the ending…Or the best route to take.  It’s like having a train tracks fully built, but not knowing which way to direct the train car.  Go this way or that way? Go left or right? Go North or South?  Sometimes I think we read so many books that we think those words have glistened off the page from the very beginning, so ours should as well.  We can write just as well, godammit!  We tend to forget the hours, months, years the author has taken to select just that correct adjective or the months of editing they’ve had to endure.

So, in the spirit of SH*TTY FIRST DRAFTS, I have to re-read Anne Lamott’s essay (of the same title), to remind myself that yes, first drafts are meant to be dreadful.  Take off your business suit and put on a pair of overalls & get in the mud.

Here are some good tidbits even the best writers always need a reminder of:

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.  You need to start somewhere.  Start by getting something – anything – down on paper…What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head…Quieting those voices is at least half the battle I fight daily.”

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.” – A-HEM, that’s me.  “Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy & thrilled.”  You’re just ruining the magic now…”They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow…In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to wrote really, really shitty first drafts.” AMEN.

Also, I like Jane’s Smiley take on it in 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE NOVEL – “Because your goal is a complete rough draft of a novel, and every rough draft, by being complete is perfect.”  What a concept.  Perfection in a draft means it just needs to be completed.  Not: Is it good, Does it make sense, but is it DONE?

In rough draft, all is forgiven.”  Thanks Jane Smiley!  Now, I feel much better.

So, adequately armed with the remembrance to just keep going, despite the muck – I will trudge onwards and keep writing my sh*tty draft…

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