On Saturday, I posted about zero drafting. Logically, the next thing to talk about would be the actual first drafting.
Conventional wisdom dictates that you write the first draft. It may seem odd to you that we have to even say that, but there are writers out there who don’t write. I doubt very much that they will ever be published writers if they don’t write, but you know these folks. I’m not sure what causes this disconnect of ideas to words on the page, but in my experience with students, the issue can be everything in the spectrum between procrastination and perfection. Anyway, if we want to write a book, we do have to write things down.
I know I can find all sorts of things to do to prevent myself from writing. In creative endeavor, it is often the case that we delay. A writer on limited time, like one of my students, or me, full-time job writer, has to make an effort to stop waxing the cat. I can fritter my writing time away, and there’s not necessarily a guarantee that I’ll have that time again.
One thing I suggest to my students, and that I do is make an appointment with my writing. I block off a certain amount of time to write and try to keep that sacred appointment. This has taken me from having no time to write to becoming a submitting author. Prioritize. You do have time to write. Maybe not every day. Maybe not as often as you want. The matter is far from hopeless if you plan and prioritize.
Many would be writers withdraw from the arena when they begin to examine the prose they write when they do finally get their fingers on the keys. Lots of my students edit their work too soon, and they comb over the introduction, or throw multiple pieces of paper away because they expect their words to shine gloriously on the page. It’s at this point we pull out the adage that there are no good writers, only good re-writers.
As a zero drafter, my work is often at several stages at one time. However, my goal is to get through a complete telling of the action of the plot. My goal is to get to the end of the story, no matter how ugly that story’s shape is in the first draft. A mistake many writers make is becoming too worried about the ugliness early on.
That first draft is not the time to become too critical. I do go back to the beginning and write forward several times as I progress toward that first draft, but only when I find the logical center no longer holds for my plot arc. Some writers find it more useful to make notes, such as “From here on out, Character X is a woman”. Whatever you do, expect the draft to be ugly, to have incongruity, to sound awful.
Make your peace with that. It’s okay. This is your time to play and let the magic happen.
On the other hand, how do you know when it’s time to abandon a project? If there’s no excitement or creative spark, maybe it’s not the best project for you. And if you’re not under a deadline, it’s possible. I’m not the best writer to talk about what you have to do if a book you’ve proposed isn’t sparking, and I’d love to hear what people suggest under those circumstances.
Let’s pretend, then, we have an ugly draft, full of error and maudlin sentences. Yay, us. We wrote a book, however ungainly it is. The important thing is not to stop here. Next stop, revision.