First Drafts: Fantastic or Just Fast?
Don’t expect me to stay this organized, but I thought, for today, I’d start at the beginning. The first draft. A stage that some of us love, and some of us, well…let’s just say we struggle with it.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts in ten days. Martha Alderson blogged about it this week at The Plot Whisperer— talking about “pantsers” and “plotters” and how both types of writers can make NaNoWriMo work for them. Debbie Ridpath Ohi also put up a post about the month at Will Write for Chocolate–she’s going to do cartoons for NaNoWriMo this year. (Once again, I wish I could draw!) And if you want a serious peptalk about joining in, go over to GottaWriteGirl and scroll down to her Git Her Done! post.
What I like about these posts is that they go at this novel-in-a-month thing with some flexibility. I know lots of writers welcome NaNoWriMo with wide-open arms, but I’m also guessing there are plenty out there who would rather eat massive amounts of eggplant than try to pour out 50,000 words in 30 days.
I’ve never done NaNoWriMo myself–the timing was never right. I did, however write a Book in a Week, after hearing April Kihlstrom talk about the process. Did it work? Yes. Did I do it exactly as the instructions said? Nope. I am NOT a pantser. I need a path to follow, even if I know that path is going to change (and it will). So, in my “free” time, over a couple of weeks, I plotted–making use of Martha’s Scene Tracker, and writing a page of basic info for each scene I had planned. Then I took the week to write. Essentially, I did Book in Three Weeks.
Guess what? I wrote 150 pages in five days. I had a book.
And then I revised.
Because, for me, this is what NaNoWriMo and Book in a Week and Karen S. Wiesner’s book First Draft in 30 Days are about. Oh, yes, they’re about the first draft, but–really–they’re about getting that draft out of the way so I can start fixing it.
I hear authors talk about writing a slow first draft, revising as they go, cleaning up the plot and the characters and the prose before they move on. I believe that, for these writers, this process works. It does not work for me. At this point on my writing path, it doesn’t seem to matter how long I spend on the first pass at a page, or a scene, or a chapter. I’m going to have to change it…often in very big ways. Any extra time I send on phrasing or voice or setting–the work I do to get things “just right”–is wasted.
The truth is, you really don’t know the beginning of your story until you’ve written the last scene. Odds are, the pages you will revise just before you send a manuscript off for submission will be the first ten. When I’m first-drafting, I need to get to “The End” as quickly as possible, so that I can stand back and look at my story–my whole story—and really understand what it’s about.
Since I did BIAW, fast first drafts have become one of my soapboxes. It’s a little crude, but when I speak at conferences, I tell the writers in the room that my first draft is my “vomit” draft. In other words, I get it all out and worry about cleaning it up later. 🙂
I know this process isn’t set in stone for me. As I write more books, my attitude and the way I come at the first draft may change. But for now, I’m definitely on the side of the fast first draft.
I’ll make it fantastic in the revision.
What about you? Do you speed through the pages the first time around, or do you need to take more time, figuring out the details before you can move on? Have you done NaNoWriMo, or a variation? Are you joining the NaNoWriMo gang this year? Or have you built your own, flexible, method for getting that first pass on the page?
Join in the conversation. I’d love to hear your take on things.