I Need a Metaphor

Or maybe it’s an analogy. I’m not going to dig out the dictionary or the style guide to make sure. Besides, I’m guessing most of you are just as vague and blurry on the difference as me.

I’ve been working on my first draft for two days now. I’m up to page 27 in my nifty DRAFT 1 binder, which breaks down to five very short scenes. Very short. Which may be okay. Or not.

And I keep trying to think of that exact phrase, that perfect image that will show (not tell!) what this all feels like.

I’ve been searching for this metaphor analogy metaphor for years. As an editor, I would try to explain to clients what revision is like, that you’re taking this…something and pulling it apart, ripping it into pieces, putting it back together. When I started speaking at workshops, I found myself waving my arms around in the air, trying to draw, maybe, what this…whatever looked like, and why it was such a good way to actually start creating a novel. I’ve used these not-quite-there, close-but-no-cigar descriptions:

  • It’s like a lump of clay. Except you don’t just go out and buy it; you actuallyΒ have to mix everything together until you’ve created the lump.
  • It’s like making Pytt i Panna, which is actually a kind of Swedish hash, but is also the phrase my husband uses to describe when his mother cooked by pretty much pulling leftovers out of the fridge and cooking them all together in one pot. Or maybe she wasn’t that random, but he sure is.
  • It’s kind of like that sculptor (Michelangelo? DaVinci? Someone else?) who said he didn’t carve the statue; he chipped away at the rock until the statue came out. Except it’s not really like that, it’s more like actually building or growing the rock in the first place.
  • And my all-time favorite, dug deep out of the ooh-gross file: It’s the “vomit draft.” Get everything out now and worry about cleaning it up later.

As you can see, none of these is exactly poetic. (Hey, maybe it was Aristotle who made the comment about the statue!) And none of them has that seamless beauty that you get when you truly hit the nail on the head. Instead of your thumb.

So I’m coming to you all. What do you call your first draft. (Keep it clean, please!) What analogy metaphorthingamabob do you use to explain what this feels like, this process of creating the gunk out of which you hope to create something…more? Please, share your thoughts in the comments. If I use your idea at a workshop or conference, I promise to give you an attribution. Okay, it may be something like, “One of the wonderful, brilliant people who read my blog told me….,” but I will definitely admit that someone sharper than me solved this dilemma!

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31 thoughts on “I Need a Metaphor

  1. Shawna says:

    I’ve always thought of it as painting with words. First you sketch and then you chose the colors, textures, forms, expressions.

    I’ve also thought of it as building a human. You start with the skeleton, and then you add muscle, sinew, skin, coloring and expression until you have a completed being.

    Mmmmm, I think I’d rather not have a psychologist examine those analogies/metaphors too closely. : )

    By the way, I’m pretty sure it was Michelangelo who spoke of the figure being in the stone.

    : )

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    • beckylevine says:

      See, I’m so NOT a visual artist–that may be why I can’t see it as actually putting down the base colors. My first draft feels much less organized than a skeleton. πŸ™‚

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      • Shawna says:

        LOL… think stick figure to start–that’s my idea or concept–then I add bones…but it’s still a long way from being done. You sketch in layers until you have the framework on which to build/draw.

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  2. free2cr8 says:

    Hiyah Becky,

    This is great post and it points out the very issue I had to overcome with writing my first draft. No matter how big or small, I had to get over the idea of perfecting the draft. Which of course is missing the point of writing a draft to begin with, right? Now that I’ve worked through my — ahem, still dealing with some kinks — first draft writing issues, things are flowing better than before. I would stop and check on the technical aspects of my writing (while still writing) such as plot development, exposition and dialogue. Needless to say, my productivity was nil. So, these post-fretting-over-every-word days I call my first draft The Ugly Duckling because they are purely raw, dirty and nothing to call home about. But, in giving myself the freedom and distance to just write I can get more out and work out the kinks later. To hopefully produce a more graceful swanlike piece of work that I am proud to have my name attached to.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I went through this, for way too long, on the novel I wrote, but never finished. I thougth I might have overcome it doing the last book, and I’m better at pushing down the worry, but, oh, boy, it’s still there!

      Love the ugly duckling image.

      Like

  3. Linda Covella says:

    I agree with Shawna’s skeleton metaphor. I think it’s a good one. The draft is the skeleton, then you have to add the outside (skin, etc.) and the inside (brain, heart, etc.) to get the true depth and character of the story.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Maybe my skeleton is just a heap of bones, including being short some critical ones and having a lot of extras?

      Like

  4. Just spilling at first. Spilling… whatever you like.

    Years and years ago I saw a video of Eudora Welty around her dining room table piled with stacks of pages. And in her lovely Mississippi accent saying, “then it’s just like cutting out ah dress.”

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  5. It’s like a bonsai tree, where the right cut can make the whole thing more beautiful, and where often what is NOT there is just as important as what IS there.

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  6. hulabunny says:

    What you are searching for is an “analogy” (a logical comparison of one situation to another different situation to give relevance and context). I’m only on my first first draft, so I don’t really have a good analogy, and I don’t know if I’ll finish my draft ever – STB would kill me if she saw that – but for me, it’s very much like drawing. You have to have an idea of what you want to draw, then you lay down your lines one at a time until an image forms. And then there is a lot of erasing because this line is too heavy, and that line is too curvy, and this circle you drew here is out of proportion with the rest of the drawing. Eventually what you get down on paper is a reasonable depiction of what you saw in your head.

    Like

    • beckylevine says:

      Oh, it’s that erasing that I need the ideas for, except, I’m trying really hard not to erase anything until I’ve finished the draft. Well, maybe a few words. But not much! I like this, Eileen-and you’re right, STB WOULD kill you! You’ll get there. πŸ™‚

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  7. Claudine says:

    In my inexperienced, nearly uninformed, taking baby-steps, but love-to-participate-anyway opinion, I don’t think the vomit analogy can be improved upon. So, Kudos, Becky! I think I’ll go try to throw up something salvagable.

    Like

    • beckylevine says:

      Janni Lee Simner uses this term, too. I’m really liking this one–because that’s so what I’m doing these days!

      Like

  8. Katie says:

    Just want to say thank you to everyone who has left a comment. I am working on the first draft of my first novel and found everything said here very encouraging. I like the skeleton idea too, because, oh boy, it seems tough just to get my ideas out, let alone try to clean them up and make them perfect…

    Like

    • beckylevine says:

      I’m glad you stopped by, Katie–the comments ARE great. This first draft IS so hard. I’m finding that out all over again. I do believe, though, that it works best to write it as quickly, straight-through as you can, and then deal with what you’ve got in revision. Good luck!

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  9. I call my first draft something different every day. Sometimes it needs a lot of work, sometimes its brilliant. It depends on how much sleep I’ve had, how strong my green tea is, and what time of day it is. Typically, every thing written past four pm needs significant revision/editing.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Hmm. And is that “something different” often unprintable? Or maybe I’m just projecting. πŸ™‚

      Funny, I think my evening stuff is often “better” than my morning. Maybe I need to shift my pattern.

      Like

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