Monday, March 11, 2013

That Sh***y First Draft

Patty here...

I have around 47,000 words written in the first draft of a new novel that I’ve been working on since dinosaurs roamed the earth. So, why the foot-dragging? Those of you who followed our Naked blog back in the day may remember that I used to blog a lot about my mother. She was my biggest fan and a constant source of entertainment for me.

The two of us on a book tour in rainy Seattle

My mother died in August 2010. Shortly afterward, I put the manuscript in a drawer where it moldered for a very long time. Just so we’re clear, I’m not using my mother’s death as an excuse for abandoning the book, and I don’t feel guilty for my self-imposed writing hiatus, either. Lots of people are quitters and very little harm comes to them because of it.

Recently, I took the manuscript out of the drawer and started working on it again. Forty-seven thousand words aren’t enough words to please most publishers. There are scenes missing, but I know what they are, where they go, and why they are important to the story. The good thing about a sh***y first draft is that nobody expects it to be brilliant. It’s merely a first attempt to commit the story to paper. What I call “texture” (setting and character details) can be layered into subsequent drafts.

Since I’m so close to the end, one would think I’d be eager to finish. Right? Not so much. Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I don’t just get on with it. For one thing, the book is a departure from my previous four novels. This one is written in third person, not in first and it’s darker in tone. For those reasons, it’s almost as though I’m writing a first novel. Are these the thoughts of a great thinker or an inveterate slacker? Hard to say.

I’ve also been reading a lot lately. Sometimes when I finish a brilliant novel with breathtaking prose I wondered why I ever bothered to type Chapter One. Why try to compete with that sort of perfection? We’ve all been awestruck by a first novel written by an unknown author that lands on top of every best-seller and awards list. Congratulations, but I’m betting that book wasn’t the first draft, maybe not even the tenth draft. Somewhere in the author’s bottom desk drawer is a sh***y first draft.  Just like mine.

Self-editing is the easiest part of the writing process for me. Creating is torture. I force myself to ignore dangling participles and forgive bad metaphors, knowing I can fix all that later. My job is to tell a compelling story one word at a time. If I’m in the middle of a scene and I can’t think of anything entralling, I write [car chase here] or [two knuckle-draggers with guns storm the restaurant]. Then I move on.

Or sometimes I just take a nap.

Or check the refrigerator for leftovers.

I hate deadlines but I’m better at getting things done when I have one. My current goal is to type THE END by June 1. Anybody else out there with a partially finished sh***y first draft that’s collecting dust in a drawer? Are you up to the challenge? Remember, nobody but you will ever read this version. We can do it. I know we can. All we have to do is pay attention and keep putting words on the page. One. Word. At. A. Time.

And when we're done, it's going to feel so good.

Happy Monday and Write on!


  1. Huzzah patience! No book need surface until you know it's the best story you can tell. Need to stretch it with a new character? Invent someone with a thirst to know it all. Gulp!

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Anon. I agree. Lack of patience is a writer's curse. There is great benefit to allowing a manuscript to percolate over time. That happens for me once I have a first draft.

  2. from Jacqueline

    Love those cats, Patty! And I love this post - takes all the silly intensity out of the process of writing. It is what it is, and if this is all good for you, then it's good for us. I never self-edit as I go along - just get that first draft down and get going on the rest! I think I'll be posting about the "fear thing" this week, so this post is a nice little set up for me - thank you! And I know how it feels to be embarking upon something different - that's what I am doing right now, writing a non-series novel that isn't a mystery, so it's different. Every time I get stuck (and there is a fair bit of stuck-ness going on), I just think, heck, write the story Jack, just write the story. And as you say, you can tease out all the dreck later. Now I think I'll take that nap ....

    1. So excited to hear more about this new project, Our J. What could it be? What could it be? I just printed out the first 200 pages of my manuscript and plan a quick read-through to figure out if I have enough balls in the air and when I should start taking them down.

  3. Hi when I click on your RSS feed I get a page of HTML. Glad you are back. Page

    1. Gosh, if only I knew what you were talking about. But now I'm curious, so I'm going to try it myself. Hope I don't detonate any nuclear warheads. Keep your heads down!

  4. Why won't Jackie leave a comment under her own name?

    I'm with you, Patty, except I prefer to create and not edit.

    Jim B

  5. I think she's in the witness protection program...but you should already know that. Maybe we should collaborate on a book? You create. I'll edit.