by Susan Dennard
It’s NaNoWriMo month.
In other words, it is currently hell-on-earth for many writers around the globe. A self-induced hell that anyone who isn’t participating in just CAN’T UNDERSTAND.
Yes, we clearly enjoy torture, but no, we are not insane. (Though, ask again in 3 weeks…)
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to soothe the minds of worried first-drafters. Everyone will tell you this (including Vahini, here on LTWF), and all I can do is reiterate:
It is okay to write crappy first draft.
In fact, we’re all expecting you too…because so will we.
And, if I’m REALLY HONEST with you, then I’ll just go ahead and share a little secret:
I’m a really bad writer.
Like, downright dreadful.
Here’s a quote that pretty much embodies me:
“More than half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.”
This is so, so, so me.
My first drafts are riddled with long pages of backstory and slow, unnecessary scenes in which characters (i.e. me) get to know each other. Every piece of dialogue has a tag–many of which are “snapped”, “hissed”, and “growled” (my characters, it would seem, are easily annoyed).
My first drafts are so bad, in fact, that I would rather be paper cut to death than share them with anyone. I’m serious–no one reads my first drafts. In fact, my crit partners are usually eyeballing third or even fourth drafts. It’s not just that I’m self-conscious about my prose–it’s that I am perfectly aware I can’t write well.
The issue is that my first drafts come out fast. We’re talking all my first drafts are NaNo-worthy, month-long passions of speed-typing.
I usually have a strong idea of the primary external plot, but I have zilch for my subplots or resonance. And as I write, my Muse strikes me with ideas for clever (or sometimes not-so-clever) threads to weave in.
By the time I finally reach the end of my book, the manuscript is what I (lovingly) like to as one giant clusterf***.
But you know what? That’s okay…
Because, by golly, I am one hell of a REwriter.
Just take a look at these massacred pages from the very first REwrite of Something Strange and Deadly. (It was still in third person! HOW WEIRD.)
Ah, but one REwrite wasn’t enough. Here’s the same section during round 2 of a total REwrite:
So let’s lay out some ground rules about rewriting–some things you might want to come back to when NaNoWriMo wraps up and you find yourself crying maniacally in the corner.
The first key to rewriting is to NOT STRESS. You may have a disaster on your hands, but you can always, always clean that up.
You have a story now (something you didn’t have when you began). All you have to do is take what you wrote and make it WHAT YOU WANTED TO WRITE.
If you want to see why stress is a killer, then read this hilarious post by author Libba Bray. My favorite line?
…then Tim comes in, takes a look at the dirt and staples all over you, your bloodshot eyes and borderline psychotic grin, puts his finger to his mouth in a thoughtful way and says, “I’m concerned.” And you say, “No, Tim, it’ll all work out—I swear!” And you staple some fertilizer to the floor and laugh.
The second key to rewriting is to STAY ORGANIZED. Go in with a plan and that messy first draft will seem way less scary.
You are gonna TACKLE THIS BEAST TO THE GROUND, GOSH DARNIT.
Plus, if you need help figuring that “plan stuff” out, well, I’ve got an entire revisions series that you can work through.
The third and final key to rewriting is BICHOK. Get your Butt In that Chair, your Hands On that Keyboard (or pen, if you’re like me…making it BICHOP) and work! You need to max out your stamina and determination for all they’re worth.
Because eventually and with enough hard labor (and possibly tears–those have been known to happen), you can turn any horrible first draft into a masterpiece.
I mean, just look at what my tattered pages above became:
Yeah, that’s an ARC of my book–an ARC of my REwritten, multi-revised (at least 8 times by the end…probably more), crappy-first-draft-in-a-month BOOK.
And with a little elbow grease and drive, you, my friends, can do the same.
So what about you? Do you write clean first drafts or rely on re-writing to get your novel where it needs to be?