My Process 2: First Draft
Man, I’ve got such a great idea, I can’t wait to get started… just as soon as I get a few more things figured out, flesh out the characters some more… maybe I should just read today, and plan out a few more chapters, and then I can start tomorrow. Yeah, I’ve got stuff to do today anyway, better to just leave the hard work for tomorrow when I can really dig in. Nothing will stop me then!
First drafts are good fun to write, but first drafts do not want to be written, and they will fight to the bone to remain in the secure confines of your skull. In that safe place they are perfection. They’re brilliant in there, everything you could ever want them to be and more, brimming with emotion and plot twists and deep meanings.
But out here in the cold light, out here they can be seen. Out here they must take a real, physical form, and their imagined potential must be destroyed to make way for their reality. They must be reduced from perfection to flawed, incomplete things which are then scrutinized and criticised and cut open and patched up over and over until they are functional. Jesus, what an unpleasant prospect.
But it must be done, because a single flawed story on paper is still better than a hundred brilliant stories locked away in someone’s brain. Better a low life than no life. (Not to say some stories shouldn’t be put down like mad dogs. Learning which ones to kill is a skill all on its own.)
So once I’ve committed myself to writing a story, and I’ve got all the necessary things worked out as detailed in imagining, I prepare myself for the first draft. And by prepare I mean procrastinate, until a time comes when I very clearly have no excuse to not start, and then I tell myself that I will write for two hours, regardless of how much I produce.
A lot of professionals emphasise editing and dismiss the notion of doing well in the first draft, the idea being that getting it all down on paper is of paramount importance, regardless of quality, and that most of the work is about editing the thing exhaustively. I would never advise against this, because too many successful authors do it this way, and I am not successful, and they know better than me.
I just don’t like that attitude, is all. I think it encourages carelessness. Yes, you can edit your carelessness out – but why do it that way? Why not write something amazing, or as close to amazing as you can get – and then edit it to make it better. Too many people out there are resigning themselves to the idea that their first draft is going to suck donkey balls. Relying too heavily on editing is just another form of procrastination. Never mind reworking this paragraph before I move on – I can do it in second draft, or third.
Screw that, my friend. This is how I write first draft: I write as if there’s a gun to my head. want to nail every scene, every character, every emotion. I won’t ever do it, of course, but I try as if it were possible. I imagine that the moment I type ‘The End’ my head will explode, turning my wallpaper red and cracking the screen of my laptop with skull fragments, and the only thing left of me in this world: my first draft.