Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On First Drafts

I've written four novels in the last three years. Wow, that sounds cool when I add it all up. Especially when I stop to think that I'm getting better and faster at writing fiction all the time.

But I didn't set out to write four "practice" novels before I started polishing even one for submission to agents.

It makes sense, that I'd have to practice, learn, improve before being ready to create something worth publishing.

But I can't think about that and still write.

When I put everything on hold one November to draft my first novel, I refused to let myself edit or revise. I set aside all my fears and my internal editor. I told myself - as I typed furiously - that my prose sang. I told myself that I was writing The Great American Novel. I told myself that it would sell immediately after I finished it, before the end of the year, certainly. I told myself I'd be on Oprah and The Today Show and I'd make buckets of money faster than I could spend them.

That's what I had to do in order to get the story down.

Later there was plenty of time for doubt. Too much time, probably. I grew afraid to go back and reread. What if it's really really bad? And, of course, some of it is. But some of it is not!

Every step of the way, I have doubts. Is this the right direction for this story to take? Have I chosen the right perspective, style, character to tell the story? Would anybody want to actually read this? I know what's going to happen next; is it obvious to everyone? Does this suck?

One of my critique partners has a very different writing style from mine, and a different taste in reading materials to go along with it.

Earlier this week she told me, "I really like your story, your plot, your characters. I just think you need to work on your prose." She can't stand my pacing, my descriptions, my sentence length patterns, my sentence structures.

Maybe she's right, or maybe we just have different tastes. Either way, it's a bit disheartening to hear that your story and characters are good, if only you could just write.

Best not to think about that during a first draft. During the first draft, every time your fingers hit the keyboard, magic happens. Genius is transcribed. Something is created from nothing.

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