Early drafts – don’t fear the necessary

“Argh! First draft? You think this is a first draft?”

The woman sitting across the table from me was distressed. It wasn’t her first draft. I knew that, but my point was that her advance submission of the first 20 pages READ like a very early draft.

And that’s ok. In fact, it’s great. Yah, you heard me – IT’S GREAT. Without those first drafts, where would we be? Remember, our first drafts are us telling us the story. And what is it about being all suicidal because our work doesn’t flow like buttuh and read like Hemingway? Ya think Hemmie got it right the first time he blew it out?

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had a scene or an idea rambling around the caverns of what masquerades as my brain only to get it down on cyber paper and discover that it doesn’t work. But I soldier on and barf it out. Why? Because I’m obviously still telling myself the story.

Our early drafts were never meant to be perfect, and we need to lean into our crapitude because we’re creating the launching pad for improvement. First drafts are building the foundation which consists of banging down the rebar and pouring the cement. As you refine each draft, let them cure – just like cement – so you can go back a couple weeks later and see the warts with fresh eyes. And you keep doing it until there’s nothing left to refine.

I told this to my bereft writer at the conference, and she still didn’t look convinced. This was her fourth passthrough and she expected perfection. Why? Is there some rule that says we have to be perfect after X number of drafts? Eh, that’s garbage thinking.

The truth is we rewrite until it’s finished. We listen to those who offer critique. We take our time, and we don’t rush the process. Yep, this takes a certain amount of maturity – something I see lacking in many writers – and experience. Few want to take that kind of time.

Writing is a process. We aren’t born with the ability to crank out a surefire winner. We need to learn writing fundamentals and then write a lot in order to develop our technique. Everyone is in such a hurry nowadays and they want their first books to hit store shelves while the cyber ink is still wet.

What happened to the idea of taking one’s time to learn the process and nurture one’s talents? Everyone wants immortality NOW without having to work for it – hello vanity publishing. Ugh, this drives me wonky because writers are missing the best part of the journey. The process is far more illuminating than the actual arrival. And that’s what our early drafts are – our process toward excellence (or so I hope!). Writers should embrace this experience, not be repelled by it.

We can’t rush the process, or we shouldn’t. Yet many do. And I see this with the queries I receive. Many, many writers have bought into the we want it now and we want it fast idiom, forgetting that you can’t force talent and marketability to meet your personal time clock.

I’ll say it again. Lean into your crapitude. Be willing to admit that your first drafts suck stale Twinkie cream. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t improve. It simply means you’re still on the road to excellence. Unless you’ve been given two weeks to live, what’s the rush?

11 Responses to Early drafts – don’t fear the necessary

  1. Great post, Lynn. Thank you. It made me laugh because my first draft is so far removed from what is now either my sixth or seventh draft (can’t remember any more). Writing a novel has taught me how to write a novel and I honour the process that has got me here, and look forward to where I still have to go. Which will be far.

  2. NinjaFingers says:

    It’s everywhere in society. A rider just got excused from the WEG for bloodying her horse’s tongue. She was using a horrible training technique called ‘rollkur’ (look it up, I don’t have the article on why its so bad handy) that gives apparently great visual results in a very short training period. The price is that you get a tense horse with ulcers that hates you. But hey, you can get a horse doing Grand Prix movements in a way that looks correct at 8 instead of 12…

    It’s the same thing. I think we have a flaw in society right now. People really do want everything yesterday.

  3. Sally Zigmond says:

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Give that Lynn Price a big bouquet and all the margaritas she can drink. Meanwhile I’ll lean back into my crapitude with gratitude and take my time.

  4. Aw, Sally, yer makin’ me blush!

  5. Frank Mazur says:

    What you describe, I think, is indicative of a mindset that unknowingly is giving importance to the writer and not the story. But if an author might conjure up an afterlife from which s/he can look down upon this world for years to come, don’t you think most would be more satisfied if it were their stories that were remembered and not their names? Obviously, I do, and it is why all attention should be directed at the story.

  6. Not sure I’m following you, Frank. I don’t think writers are unknowingly putting more emphasis on themselves rather than their stories.

    They simply expect to write brilliant stuff after one or three drafts. They want it fast, they want it now, and they want it perfect. Problem is, they can’t do it. No one can.

  7. Webb says:

    So crapitudenally speaking by about draft eight it should start to resemble something readable? So how come I still want to flush it?

  8. NinjaFingers says:

    Two possibilities, Webb:
    1. The number of required drafts varies by author.
    2. Some authors think everything they write is crap even when its finished and even good.

  9. Webb says:

    Ninja, that’s almost biblical. We’ll call those two items The Crapitudes…I feel a blog coming on.

  10. kimkircher says:

    Crapitude, I love this term. And leaning into it seems like a great way to relieve myself of the pressure to get-it-the-the-first-time.Great post, Lynn.

  11. NinjaFingers says:

    I tend to think everything I write is crap no matter what I do. Have learned to ignore that little voice.

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