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!