Sunday, May 18, 2008

There's a Draft in Here. And over here. And on top of here. . . Part the First

Current Reading: The Android's Dream, by John Scalzi

Inspirational Quote: "A writer must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid. " -- William Faulkner

An old joke:
Inexperienced Writer: How many drafts do I need?
Experienced Writer: All of them.

Writing a first draft is hard. The only advice I've heard that makes sense to me is "Put your head down and charge." I try to ignore critical thoughts. I try to ignore my doubts about the story and my own ability to tell it. I try to just write. It's not easy. Some days every word that comes off my keyboard is wrong and I know it from the moment my fingers touch plastic. Getting through those days is a test of endurance, and every word is a struggle.

I write beginning to end. Some people write end to beginning, or somewhere-near-the_middle to somewhere-else-near-the-middle. I figure whatever gets you through the draft is all that matters.

I don't outline. I've tried it, and it just didn't work for me. I found myself thinking, "I've already written the story. Going back and filling in the details is going to be no fun."

All I want to do in the first draft is write the story. Sometimes I don't even know what the story is yet, but I put things down anyway. It's like walking through a dark room. I don't always know where the next step will take me. Sometimes I stub my toe on a chair leg, bang my shins on the coffee table and step on a building block my daughter neglected to put away after playtime... alright, I guess the metaphor doesn't hold up well when you run with it. The point is, I don't always know where I'm going. Oh, sure, I've got a vague idea in mind about the end, but sometimes even that turns out to be wrong.

There have been times when I've finished a particularly difficult scene, written the last line and realized that it was difficult because things didn't happen the way I wrote them. I've been fighting a subconscious conviction that there was another, better way to present things. Sometimes I go back, although I suspect that's counterproductive. I should just ignore it and write the scene again right after. That way, I can take advantage (cut and paste is a marvelous thing) of some of the work I've already done.

I try to get everything down, every scene, every event, every character, even if I don't know why some of them are there. Spelling and language are incidental. I don't go back. I force myself not to edit, not to engage the critical part of my brain because it might undermine what the creative part is trying to achieve.

I've just finished a short story that started as an image of a character in a situation which would normally be totally alien to him. Of course, that raises questions: who is he? Why is he there? How does he feel about things? What does he do? I work things out in words, in draft. I didn't know any of the answers. I threw in some funny dialog, and it was in there, buried in the humor, that the reason for the story surfaced. I finished the draft and set it aside in all its sprawling chaotic glory, ignoring the nagging urge to dive back in with this new motive in mind and rewrite.

Instead, I set it aside, and for six weeks I worked on my novel (which is in its second draft).

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