Today I began working on the first draft of my new novel. I’ve been thinking about this one a long time, getting to know the characters and the setting, trying to find the tension in the story. The idea first came to me about eight months ago disguised as a different story entirely. But over the last several months I’ve worked on it enough that I’m pretty confident I know what direction to go. So onward!
I always seem to have a problem when I’m writing my novels though. At first I love it, everything goes along just fine. But after a couple of weeks I start to drag. I don’t know if it’s my energy or that I don’t know the story well enough or what. On several occasions this slump has been enough to derail me – as evidenced by three half finished novels sitting in a drawer somewhere.
So, I’m trying something new this time.
It’s a little insane, but I’m not really one to do things the safe/easy way. I am going to go so fast that I don’t have time to slow myself down. I’ve decided that I am going to write the entire first draft of this thing by October 4th, 23 days from now. Why October 4th you ask? Because I am going to Austin City Limits (!!) and I want to have this thing done before the three day music insanity begins so I can enjoy it to the fullest. And because I know if I don’t finish it by then, there’s a good chance I’ll be derailed by three days of drinking, dancing and singing at the top of my lungs.
Here are a few thoughts I’ve found that help me on first drafts. For the most part, they are a play on the same sort of idea, that a first draft is just a starting place and not something to get too hung up on. I hope, if you’re in the midst of a first draft yourself, they will help you out as well.
The Tyranny of the First Draft – My favorite lines from this great synopsis on drafting are the following – “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story” and “First drafts aren’t supposed to be perfect. It’s in the rewriting that you find the true novel.” Brilliant insights that help me push through the blocks every time.
5 Tips on Writing First Drafts – All of these are great, and I especially love the suggestions for how to handle research during the first draft. But the sentence that spoke to me the most was – “Every time you think about how pedestrian and clumsy and downright awful your first draft is, remind yourself that no one else has to read it.”
Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (by Peter Turchi) – This book is beautiful both from a design and a language perspective. The metaphor of writing as a form of mapping is insightful. Here is my favorite idea of all. – “Writing is often discussed as two separate acts – though in practice they overlap, intermingle, and impersonate each other…One is the act of exploration: some combination of premeditated searching and undisciplined, perhaps only partly conscious rambling. This includes scribbling notes, considering potential scenes, lines, or images, inventing characters, even writing drafts…The other act of writing we might call presentation. Applying knowledge, skill, and talent, we create a document meant to communicate with, and have an effect on, others…That is to say, at some point we turn from the role of Explorer to take on that of Guide.” I’m definitely feeling like an explorer at this point in time, which, I think, is right on track.
Ask the Writing Teacher – Novelists on First Drafts – This is a great collection of thoughts on first drafts from a variety of writers. I like Ann Patchett’s thoughts about how different each person’s process is, something that’s good for me to remember when I get too sidetracked reading other people talking about writing. “I get everything set in my head and then I go, whereas Elizabeth will write her way into her characters’ world, trying out scenes, writing backstories she’ll never use. We marvel at each other’s process, and for me it’s a constant reminder that there isn’t one way to do this work.”
Do you have any recommendations for completing a first draft? Please share with us in the comments below!