There’s a certain amount of courage involved in living and working as a writer. Having the courage of your convictions, and the temerity to write them down and weave them into the action of your stories. Being outlandish enough to give your creative imagination free range on the page and/or screen while you explore one outrageous plot twist after another. And at some point down the road, having the audacity to invite readers into the world you’ve created.
Yeah, that’s awesome. But today, I’m talking about having the simple courage to open up the file of the first draft you wrote in haphazard, speed-demon fashion a month ago. And then read it.
Because that’s what I’m doing this first morning of the first day of the new year.
Every book?and short story, essay, magazine article, what-have-you?has its birth as a first draft. It’s a mewling, kicking thing that delights and amazes. And all the while you’re trying not to notice that it’s shitting all over the precious intentions you originally had for the story, back when the idea was first conceived.
Because, as you may know, one of my favorite adages about writing is…
“The?first draft?of anything is shit.”
So, you let it sit for a month. At least, that’s what I do. I need some time away from a newly completed first draft, to cleanse my writer’s palate and to help ensure that when I go back to read over it I’ll have a better chance of seeing what’s actually there on the page and not merely what I’d intended to write.
Eventually, that month’s vacation from the initial draft comes to an end, and it’s time to turn to that first page… and hopefully not to vomit all over the iPad at the mediocrity of the language and the sheer mess of the story.
Actually, it’s never been that bad. But I’m always bracing myself for the worst?as I was just before I opened up the first draft file of “The Black Pool” (the third in the Valhalla series). Because I have clear memories of what chaos the writing experience was for this particular first draft. I wrote enough notes to myself within the text to rival the word count of the story itself?or, that’s how I remember it. And I recall having a difficult time relaxing into “bringing the funny” to the manuscript. I may have been a good three-quarters of the way through the first draft before I wrote the first actual joke into the text.
But that’s what rewrites?and more rewrites?are for, yes?
So I girded myself for that first peek this morning. I got my social media distractions out of the way. I fortified myself with some hot tea?a special blend of green sencha and herbal chamomile?and a few pinches of a gluten-free, vegan espresso brownie. And then I took a breath, and I opened the file…
And it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. It rarely is. There was even some decent humor?intentional or not?in the first few pages.
I don’t care who you are?how many first drafts you’ve written, or how many New York Times best sellers you have under your belt?it takes real guts to go back to a first draft with an eye toward developing something real out of it.
And so that’s how I’m spending my New Year’s Day.
Creative Commons photo by Graham Binns.