Saturday, March 13, 2010

First Drafts

I'm off and running with my newest WIP, and I'm jazzed about it. I get to work on a new puzzle. I'm applying the road map I've created, the notes I've made, the character sketches I've completed, and the research I've done so far--everything--to the blank page. I'm officially neck deep in first draft.

As crazy as the first draft stage can be, there are oodles of things I love about it. One is based entirely on Anne Lamott's "sh**ty first draft" theory. As a perfectionist, this frees me up. I'm allowed to suck. The beauty of this, of course, is I can loosen up to get it all out: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I love to be allowed to have it all. Whose permission do I need? My own.

I mentioned at Becky Levine's blog that my critique group members and I turn in chapters as we go. Once I'm into my first draft, my goals are usually to go through the edits in my returned chapter and write a new chapter each week. I leave a small amount of time to clean up the new chapter so my group can see it as pretty as I can make it that week. Technically, I suppose that makes my completed first draft hardly a first draft at all since every chapter has been edited at least once by my group and at least twice by me. But in my mind (and in my computer), I still file it under "first draft." Mind game? Totally. But it works for me.
Even doing revisions, when I'm creating entirely new scenes or changing an old scene substantially, I have to tell myself to return to the first draft frame of mind. And it helps me.

There's no right or wrong way to write a novel; each one of us needs to do what works for us as individuals. Still, it's so interesting to hear how other people do it.
How do you work? Do you show your critique partners, your agent, or your spouse--anyone--chapters as you go, or do you keep the first draft to yourself? Does knowing it's the first draft help you relax and just get words down? Are there any mind games you play with yourself to help you work?

27 comments:

storyqueen said...

Oh, it's all about the mind games, baby!

I usually start a book inside of another document, so it's not like I "really" started it....I was just messin' around. Eventually, if it seems like a good beginning, I will cut and paste it into a new document...it will finally have it's own space.

Also, if I share as I go along, it is never for feedback...only so that I can hear it (if I am reading it to someone) or so that someone can read it before I make changes so that they can compare different versions.

Usually, I don't want much commentary if I am in the middle of something because somehow, I lose the original vision. I find I am trying to please my group as opposed to following the story.

And I find myself really wanting to follow the story these days...

Great post!
shelley

SWK said...

I give my first drafts file names like "Ugh" or "Aww" instead of a story title. For me, this takes the pressure off. Great post.

Jen said...

Mind games are necessary so you are able to finish your first draft!!! I don't work in chapters, when I say it's my first draft I mean it is, I write what I feel...continously... knowing that when I touch it the second round it's going to be dirty, but I tell myself that's okay. My wonderful husband is the only person I let read it... I'm not to a crit group yet, but I can see that being necessary in the next few months!

Dawn Simon said...

Yay that I'm not the only writer who does this!

Shelley, I think I love ya. ;)

Stasia, we are sisters in computer file naming.

Jen, you totally get it, too, telling yourself it's okay! That's nice that you share with your hubby. Good luck finding that group! A good crit group is priceless.

Michelle said...

I'm editing at the moment - I hate editing - maybe I should play some mind games... goal setting just isn't working.
I have a great hubby too - he either scrunches his face and shakes his head or hand it back in silence... silence means it's good!! lol

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I've tried to read a chapter at my group right after writing it, but I find that if I do that pretty soon I don't feel the story is going where I want it to. So, for me I usually write the entire rough draft first. Then as I'm revising and editing I take it to group. This way when they ask me where the book is going, I know. It's great to find what works best for you. :)

Dawn Simon said...

Too funny, Michelle!

Kathi, I agree that you have to find what works best for you; there isn't just one right way.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

I showed my first WiP to a few people. The second one I'm sharing on a need to know basis, and so far... no one needs to know :D

Mind games are good, I work best under pressure so self-imposed deadlines help me out. I haven't set any lately, I really should...

Sounds like your method works great for you!

Travener said...

I won't share a first draft with anyone. I have one pal who got to see the detailed outline before I started writing -- but he never had a chance to read it (he's a semi-big corporate honcho).

The spousal unit doesn't even get to know what it's about until the first draft is done -- I'm afraid of jinxing it.

Dawn Simon said...

Deb: "and so far... no one needs to know" - hee! I'm the same way about self-imposed deadlines. They totally help me.

Travener, I understand the not sharing thing. I don't want anyone outside my critique group to see it when it's that raw.

pauling said...

Hi Dawn, Thanks for commenting on my blog. And I'm so glad you mentioned how you got to it because the link brought you to my blog before I switched servers. So my last post on the one you saw was in January. There's been a couple people posting on it and I wasn't sure how they were getting to it. Now I know. If you google my name, Laura Pauling, you'll find the current one.

And I'm very similar to you in the way I work. I have to try really hard to remind myself it's a first draft. I like to have the first draft finished before I submit to my crit group, but I'll submit to them if I have nothing else. I like you blog too! Thanks again!

Kelly said...

I do keep the first draft to myself, give it a revision or two, and then my critique group has a go at it, chapter by chapter. Once in a while they do get the rough, rough draft though...

Molly Hall said...

What a fun thing to talk about! I do not share my first drafts as i go. No no no. No. No way. Not me. I used to bring things to my critique group as I went, but I realized that I needed to be the primary architect of the story for the first go-round. I needed to keep it close to the heart.

Maybe that in itself is a bit of a mind game? I can allow myself to write bad bad bad scenes because I have made a solemn vow not to share it with anyone. It is my own private bad writing. Once I get it all down, I do let my husband read it! : ) Then, once I go through it and do at least one solid revision, I can take it to the group. That's when I need their wisdom.

But if I am just tinkering with an idea, I will take a chapter to the group. They can see what's working, what's not, and what questions I may need to ask myself as I go forward.

It's fascinating to learn how people work! Great questions, Dawn. I also think it's fascinating to see how my own writing process keeps evolving.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I used to keep the first draft under wraps -- write with the door closed, edit with the door opened. But my online writing class had me writing by the seat of my pants and getting critiqued for it. I cracked. It's one thing with a group you trust. It's something else completely with strangers you're unsure about...back to closed doors for me!

Dawn Simon said...

Laura, glad I could help. :) Isn't it funny that we remind ourselves it's a first draft? It totally eases the pressure.

Hi, Kelly! I think it's super interesting to hear how everyone writes.

Molly, that's the great thing about the sh**ty first draft theory: it really is for us and not something that's meant to be judged. It sounds like you have a great system.

Sherrie, good for you, trying both ways--that was gutsy. I never used to share my first drafts. I think you're right about it being different with a group you trust. I also think too many opinions--even if they're all the opinions of really good writers--can have a "too many chefs in the kitchen" result. I definitely couldn't work this way with just anyone.

Hilary Wagner ~ Writer said...

My husband is the only one who reads it before it goes to agent and if he does not have time, it goes straight to her.

I used to give my husband chapters, but he said that took to long to wait, so now I give him the whole thing at once! He is great at giving me honest feedback and gives me wonderful ideas! He is a keeper and a great free freelance editor!!! I loves him lots! ;)

xoxo -- Hilary

paulgreci said...

My process for each ms seems to be a little different. Currently I'm not in a group so no one sees my first draft until I ask a few people to read it. Sometimes I discuss the story with my wife but don't want to let her in on too many of the details because I'd rather have her read it blind after a couple other people have read it and I've done another revision.

My agent has only seen the book she is shopping around right now but she wants me to send her my next book when I'm ready to send it to her, my decision on when. I'm guessing it'll go thru a couple more revisions before I send it her way.

Lisa and Laura said...

Great post! We try to "embrace the suck" when we're writing a first draft. But, you know what? It's HARD. We also end up doing a lot of editing as we go because we alternate chapters, so in order to maintain a unified voice I edit the chapters Laura writes and vice versa. Our first draft usually ends up being pretty clean, but it's always unrecognizable by the time we're really done.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

There's something just utterly freeing about a first draft, isn't there? But unlike you, my CPs wait until I'm completely done before I show them. I think if I knew they'd be seeing each chapter as I went, I wouldn't feel so free any more. I'm a terrible perfectionist, and it would take me forever to actually finish the first draft.

Dawn Simon said...

Hilary, it's cool how many people rely on their spouses for feedback! I sometimes discuss sticky plot points with my husband, and he comes up with interesting ideas when I'm brainstorming stories. (I know I told you before, but your book sounds great!)

Paul, I get what you mean about having your wife read it blind. I discuss my books at group, but sometimes leave out details so I can see how they hit them when they read the chapters. It will be super exciting when your agent sells your first book! And when you give her the second one--that will be a big deal!

Lisa and Laura, it's awesome to hear how you work! Funny about the "embrace the suck"--I almost wrote "embrace the sh**tty" in the post. Hee! Great minds... ;) It is hard. Just today, I was working on a chapter and had to remind myself AGAIN. This is and will be a regular occurrence throughout the whole draft!

Carolina, there is a huge sense of freedom! I totally get not wanting to share as you go. I didn't work this way at first; it would have locked me up.

Tahereh said...

great post! i think i definitely keep my first draft to myself. mostly because i don't want to bother betas with my raw ideas. :P i think i'm too self-conscious.

thanks so much for sharing! great blog!!

Amy Holder said...

Love this post! I keep my first draft to myself...and then I round up critiques once I'm finished with the whole thing. Being a perfectionist, the first draft makes me a little nervous to know that my work isn't polished. I try to truck through those nerves because it's easier to polish suckiness (for lack of a better word) than a blank sheet of paper.

Good luck with your WIP! :)

Amy Tate said...

Dawn, one of the coolest tricks that I've learned is to rewrite each chapter from a different POV. It's time consuming but after a year of revisions, it's caused me to fall in love again with my work. I've gained so much insight into my characters and it's a lot of fun to see what they'll do. Congratulations on your progress!

Dawn Simon said...

Thanks, Tahereh! I understand not wanting to bother betas with raw ideas! I see the benefits of waiting. Thanks for visiting!

Amy H., it IS easier to polish suckiness than a blank page! ;) I always feel like the first draft is the clay on the wheel, ready to be shaped. Back at ya with the good luck! :)

Amy T., that sounds like a really cool (and huge) thing to do. I've tried it with scenes or chapters, but never full drafts! Wow!

Nicole Ducleroir said...

Hi Dawn! Thanks for stopping by my blog -- it was great to hear from you!!

I'm excited to hear you've made progress with your new WIP. I was drinking in what you said here, about allowing the first draft to suck, about not holding back. It's so hard to do sometimes, isn't it? I think you're brave to stay true to that mantra, knowing your crit group will see the chapter the next week. I'm envious AND inspired!

As you saw in my goofy pic (*blush*), I made good progress with my outline. I'm unsure how the story ends, and I've resigned to the belief that I'll figure it out along the way. So in answer to your question, I'm going to try a writing schedule with the goal of a first drafted chapter per week. I don't have a beta group or anyone who I share my work with, except my sister in NY who is also a writer. She's brutally honest in her critiques of my work and I trust her. At some point I'll seek out a crit group.

This is my first go-around, so I appreciate hearing your journey. Thanks for sharing!

Lola Sharp said...

I dont outline (as you already know), and I don't let anyone read anything until:

After my first draft, I do a round of revisions (a 2nd draft), filling in any drop-downs, fixing any plot holes, killing ugly adverbs and plenty o' prettying-up my grammar (like that 'prettying-up'?), sentence structures, etc.

After the 2nd draft clean-up, I let Husband read. He is excellent at finding plot holes and tense mistakes among other grammar misses.

Then I fix what he catches, and do another round of rewriting.

I like to give my betas as clean and pristine a manuscript as I am able. I don't want to waste their time. I want to earn very little red ink. ;o)

So it isn't until after I've done my best that it goes to my betas.

Then I start the next novel while they have a printed out copy to mark up and return to me.

There you have it. Sorry you asked? Yawning?

We all work so differently, and I really enjoy learning how others work. But there is NO WAY I'd be brave enough to do it your way. Yipes.

Thanks for your sweet comment today.

Love,
Lola

Dawn Simon said...

Nicole, it's great you've made such progress with your outline. I'm sure the ending will come to you. I thought I had the ending of my last WIP all figured out early on, but what I didn't realize until I was revising was that it would be much better if I ended it quite differently. I follow an outline (more detailed in some areas than others), but it's fluid. I sometimes have to write my way in to figure stuff out. How ideal to have a writer sister as crit partner--and in NY (sigh--I won't get swept away with a NY tangent even though I think it's one of the coolest places in the universe).

Hi, Lola! I love that you're earning your red ink, lol! Sounds like a great process. And you're so smart to start that next novel right away. I'm not sorry I asked at all! :) I'm finding everyone's answers so interesting that I brought them up at crit group this week. I can learn from you guys. If I ever get stuck in my own method, it's nice to know what works for other people. Also, it's just fun to hear what other people do!