Camp NaNoWriMo started at the beginning of this month and I’m currently headed to a writing retreat trying to complete the first draft of my work in progress. (For once, it’s going splendidly!)
As I write every day, I’m reminded how terrible first drafts are. And I’ve been thinking about the idea of perfect first drafts. We all loathe that feeling of hating our own writing, and we all seem to think that someone out there is doing it better. Is doing it perfectly.
But while I’ve been analyzing this whole first-draft process and the heartaches that come with it, God opened my eyes. And I couldn’t leave for my retreat without sharing my new revelations with you. I hope/pray they encourage you as much as they encouraged me.
Revelation #1: FIRST DRAFTS ARE GROSS
You know this.
I know this.
Even our moms who read them and are so proud of us know this.
So I guess it wasn’t much of a revelation, but I had to start with it. I’ve worked with over 100 authors on their novels through my editing business and many have gotten frustrated with the state of their first drafts. I still get frustrated with my first drafts and sink into “I’m-a-terrible-writer!” mode more often than I’d like to admit.
Sometimes it causes me to stop writing. To think about giving up. But then, thanks to Tosca Lee, I’ve been practicing mind games. 😛 Every time I’m tempted to hate a sentence (which is often) I chant to myself Tosca’s golden rule:
“Write as though no one is going to read it.”
So far, the chant is working.
Revelation #2: PERFECT FIRST DRAFTS = IMPOSSIBLE
Maybe you’re starting to wonder, “Um…Nadine, didn’t you say this was going to encourage me?” Stick with me.
You can’t write a perfect first draft, and here’s why:
A book is not its draft, just like a house is not its frame. (Tweet this) Let me explain:
You can’t do it all in one go. And even if you think you can…you can’t. Trying to write a perfect first draft is like trying to build a completed house from the ground up in one go. It’s not just impossible, it’s silly to think you should. An architect isn’t going to pour the foundation and then put the carpet on it and the dining room table on top of that before building the frame and putting insulation and dry wall and a roof.
You have to start with a frame. That’s crucial to the house, but that doesn’t make the house liveable.
Not an architect? Me neither. So let’s look at this from a writing perspective:
It’s the same with your novel. You create the framework in the first draft, then you keep filling it in (or cutting it down) through edits. Each area requires a different type of focus. Writing descriptions is a different mindset than developing characters. Developing characters is a different mindset than analyzing your story’s theme.
Why would you even want to try and build the perfect character, plot, scene, theme, and prose all in the first go? That’s way too much pressure.
Revelation #3: GROWTH
EVERYTHING needs to grow. Everything happens in stages. Plants start out as seeds. We start out as babies. Bookmarks start out as blank pieces of paper. Oreos start out as black batter. Even God–God–created the earth in stages. And it was perfect.
It doesn’t mean that Day 1 of creation was more important than any other day. That light was more important than the animals. It just means that there were layers. It’s a testament to the thought put into the story.
Revelation #4: FIGURE OUT YOUR FOUNDATION
You have to start with your novel’s foundation. Each writer has their own preference. That’s why there are so many different types of novelists — plot-first novelists and character-first novelists and storyworld-first novelists and question-first novelists, etc. We all think better with a different foundation under our feet. So start with that. Maybe you can’t write a book until your plot is solid. Or maybe you have to have a character arc perfected before you can write. Whatever it is, start with whatever allows you to build from there.
Revelation #5: FIRST DRAFTS ARE SO HARD BECAUSE…
…we can see where it’s supposed to be. But we can’t deliver that the first time around. We can see the completed project in our mind, with every perfect twist, every perfect angle, every perfect development, but our minds are finite. They cannot know and think everything at one time. God created us to go through the process. And it’s hard to accept that we have to jog a marathon when we can see the finish line.
So as you write…
No matter where you’re at with your novel–first draft, third draft, fifth draft…remember that each draft necessary. It’s only when they come together that your novel is complete. (Tweet this.) And writing a perfect first draft makes about as much sense as expecting an apple seed to become a tree the moment it hits the soil.
Take your time. Give your novel time. And every time you’re tempted to hate a sentence, remind yourself that it’s not the finished product. That you’ll come back to it with a “polishing” mindset some time down the road.
And do as Tosca says: “Write as though no one is going to read it.”
Be free. Write. Grow.
What struggles do you face with your first drafts?
This can relate to anything! Novel-writing, photography, painting, dancing, etc.
Are you able to write your first draft without expecting it to be perfect? Share your tricks! 😛