I’m writing the first draft of my latest novel, second in a trilogy. It’s been a while since I wrote the initial draft of the first book. I’d forgotten the annoying little quirks of this stage, things like overusing specific words, dropping a plot thread and having to go back and reinsert it in chapters I’d already “finished,” having to rewrite a scene that sounded so great and easy to write in my beat sheet but when I actually began penning the words, the logistics felt clunky. At first I was discouraged, until I remembered that this is common for a first draft. I’ve heard of mythical writers who “get it right” the first time through and never need second, third or fourth versions.
I’m not one of them.
Right now, the only person who sees/hears the scenes when I finish is Bobby; he’s my enthusiastic sounding board and doesn’t hesitate to point out errors or problematic elements, for which I’m grateful. He also provides input when I know what I want to happen or what needs to happen, but I can’t figure out the best way to get there. I wouldn’t think of showing it to anyone else yet. It’s not ready. A first draft is like a painter’s preliminary pencil sketch on primed canvas or the metallic skeleton of a nascent construction project. It is the merest beginning of something that will develop with time. The painter adds layers of color, light and shadow to give her image depth and to provoke emotion in the viewer. The builder adds wiring, walls, roof, doors, and turns an open frame into a museum or a school or a home.
It’s worth noting, though, that the end product—so much more than the sum of its parts—relies on that first effort. Without a sound foundation, a house could collapse. Without a sketch, a painting’s composition could fall apart. Without a good first draft, a novel might end up in the digital trash in favor of a traumatic “do-over.” May the Muses save me from that headache as often as possible.
I think it was Mary Burton who once said in a workshop at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference that she usually gets it right by the seventh draft. I can relate. The first novel in this series went through about that same number before it got to where it is now. I’m a long way from that point in this work, but once I remembered that this is (my) normal first draft process, I became a writing fool. I’ve been ignoring phone calls, forgetting dates, missing appointments. I’m almost at the mid-point of the story, where something significant shifts in the main character’s situation, and I get really excited at the thought of uninterrupted writing time. The characters and the plot points circle in my head most of the day. Bobby makes a point of reminding me each morning to remember to stay in this world and in this time while I’m driving. (Insert honking horn here.)
So forgive me if I make this a short post. Alira (my main character) is just about to step in it big time, and she needs my full attention.
‘Til next week!