First Drafts

This is from Redwoods NP. It is named Julie Pfeiffer Burns.

And now, my contribution. I hope you’re enjoying following the Godfrey’s. I also hope you enjoy the occasional article that I repost from Chuck Wendig. A foul-mouthed genius, is the way I think of him. I was going to write about first drafts, and of course, just today, he beat me to it. But, I’m going to do it anyway, because this is important, dammit!

My first drafts are horrible. No, worse than that, they are essentially unreadable. Here, I’ll give you a sample, from a book that will, if there is justice in the world, never see publication. Here are the first two paragraphs:

In those days I was a big company man. By that I mean that I believed in the company, in what we were doing. In those days, if I could have, I’d have told anyone who asked that I was doing really important work keeping the streets and highways safe. So far as I knew at the time, that was the absolute truth. I don’t believe in absolute truth any more. I’m not sure what I believe in, is the truth. But I think I’m better off, if only because at least now I can tell people what I do every day, even if it isn’t much. Back in those days it was a secret thrill to have a job that I couldn’t even tell my own mother about, if I still had a mother that is. I was thrilled, and I was happy to be of service. The company? I’d have told anyone, if I could have told someone, that the company was putting us out into the rush hour traffic to get people to slow down and be careful. As they say, hah! But so long as I believed it, life was good. Let me tell you about a typical afternoon, back in those days.

Never mind where that was going, just look at that thick prose, over-talkish verbiage, poorly written gibberish, etc. That example shows why, except for you, dear readers, nobody ever sees my first drafts. They suck. They truly suck. But, the great thing is that I love writing them. It is such fun slapping words down into a file and watching the story grow, taking the plot from point to point, messing with my characters until sometimes I actually kill one or two. It’s a hoot, and I love those guys, I really do! Which explains why so often I have to delete entire scenes, occasionally a character, add additional characters, and for the love of Aristotle, put in something to make a reader give a damn what happens to those people, whom, by the time I’m done, I totally hate, and would enjoy seeing roasted over a slow fire.

I don’t have doubts during my first draft, like Chuck Wendig does. I have doubts when I read the damn thing over a few weeks after I key in “The End.” Because they suck, every time, and I can’t see, at first, anything that I could possibly do to make the thing into a decent story. I’m telling you, it’s depressing.

But then I start revising, using the bits of my brain that know about character, language, subplots, story arcs, emotions, showing versus telling, all that stuff. And, amazingly, that’s fun, too, even though I don’t get lost in the process in the way I get lost in first drafting. And I take Wendig’s advice every time and trust the process I use. It gets me there. At the end is a good book, and I know that. It works! It’s alive! Bwaaa haaa haaa haaa!



Yucca Mountain. North of Las Vegas Nevada

The picture this week is relevant to the topic. Yucca Mountain is politically controversial in Nevada. Google it if you want to know more. Short story is that this is the place where it was decided to store the nation’s low level nuclear waste. Since it’s just 75 miles from downtown Las Vegas, some folks are worried about what might happen. Nevada is an active earthquake state, so you can imagine the sort of scenario that is being proposed. There are counter arguments, also, and frankly, they may be right. I have seen video of various things being tried to break one of the containers that the waste is  stored in, and I’m not sure the average earthquake has the energy to do that. But, I’m not arguing a position on Yucca Mountain. I am using both sides as an example of how politics can skew the view of a situation.

“Good God, we’re all gonna die!” True.
“Not from Yucca Mountain because that stuff is safer than you’d think.” Also true.

So, I just managed to slip in my position without saying so, which is the point of this essay. No matter what you believe, no matter what your politics are, YOUR POSITION AND POLITICS ARE GOING TO COME OUT IN WHATEVER YOU WRITE. Mark Twain never gets on the nose with his commentary on racism in Huckleberry Finn. But, he does have Huck volunteer to go to a literal Hell rather than be a racist dick toward his friend Jim. That is a much stronger statement than saying “Racists are ignorant and undeserving of respect.” I doubt that Twain believed that statement in the raw form I’ve presented above. But maybe he did. Either way, Huck volunteering to go to Hell is a lot stronger way to make a statement about racism and social norms than any essay could ever be. So, okay, you say, but you’re writing an essay right now, aren’t you?

Well, yes, but that’s because I have a need to write something at frequent intervals. I just finished the first draft of a middle-grader, and I’m working on structural editing of a YA. Neither of those things involve much writing per se at this point, so I crank out the occasional (every Wednesday, I hope) essay, to keep my “write something” Jones down to a mild roar.

And my point, then, is that, if you, as a writer, are upset about politics on any level, if you truly want to do your bit to make the world a better place, then the thing you should do is write your stories. Maybe you’re like me, and you need to produce a few essays in between editing. Okay, fine. But write that damn story right now! It doesn’t matter what the story is, it will, without you being at all pedantic, be a better illustration of your world view than any essay (or Facebook post) could ever be. I’m serious, bucko! Stop reading this and writing something now!

There. I feel better, and you should, too!

Cutting Back

Oscar Goodman Welcome Speech at a Conference I Helped Organize and Produce. Probably won’t do that again. 🙂

That conference was a lot of work. But, if you’ll forgive me a quick aside, several years later I ran into Oscar at the ALA Conference when it was held in Vegas. He remembered me, by name, and where we’d met. Then he gave me a free copy of his book, which of course you should buy. I have trouble remembering the name of someone I just met, which may explain why he’s a successful politician, and I’m not.

I have cut back to writing basically just one day a week. That may get expanded, but for the moment that’s the way it is. That day is Tuesday, because for the life of me I can’t manage to get much business as a ride share driver on Tuesdays. I have no idea why not. Other people do it. Today, of course, is Wednesday, and I made about sixteen bucks an hour, which is pretty good for that sort of work. (I meet a lot of interesting people, too.)

On Tuesdays I do the things I resolved to do when I was at the RWA conference in Denver last month. And maybe other stuff as well. I do have an idea for a book, which might be a funny book, but so far that’s all it is. Maybe two projects at one time is enough? We’ll see. But, as I’ve stressed before, I do write. Just yesterday I got some kids through a dangerous situation, people shooting at them even, by using their brains (and running like heck.) It’s the first draft, so it’s fun to write, and no doubt will take three times as long to revise as it did to put down, but that’s okay, ’cause that’s how writing works. Will I have to do it all on Tuesdays? Who knows? But I will do it all, that you can take to the bank.

(It’s gonna be a great book, too. Oo-oo, you’ll like it!)