Monday, January 24, 2011

Not all drafts are voluntary
A Trumpet call blasts across the camp and the soldiers grumble from the tune.
The door to the barracks bursts open with a loud rattle and the Sergeant comes in with an even more sonorous voice.
“Polish your boots men (and women); today’s gonna be dirty!”
“Finish your drafts and get published before the enemy kills ya!” 

...Wait...Wrong draft! Aren’t we talking about writing? This isn’t Vietnam...

Here is a truth: there is no such thing as a perfect draft in writing. Writing itself isn’t perfect; it isn’t a science that can be whittled down into a core and smiled upon. No one can say to you, “This is perfect”, or, “This is the worst writing in the world” with 100% truth. It might be true for them, but not for the universe. And it’s because of this imperfection and artistic concept, that writers (and most people) tend to go over their work several times before shipping it off. Microsoft could learn something about that.

Back to the intro with the trumpet call. The trumpet call is your consciousness telling you to write. You’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well wake up and get on it. You’ll only hurt yourself by ignoring it. It’s okay...really. It’s better to go partially insane than fully. This way you’ll skip the psych ward and end up with global fame! That’s a pretty good compromise, right?

Then the Loud Mouth Sergeant. He or she can take on many forms. Let’s just say that the loud mouth sergeant is your friend or relative or significant other, or hell, a publishing house. Basically, someone other than yourself telling you to write. They generally have a reason for yelling at you, and that reason should at least have something to do with your extraordinary talent for prose. Listen to them.

But, you gotta polish your boots before taking on the world. Yep, an editor. You could be your own editor (and I know how that feels). Or, you could have an editor friend, or hire an editor. Either way, you have to have a big look over your writing, and it’s preferred that someone else do it. You can certainly greatly improve your draft on your own, but you won’t get a real good sense for the story and where you can take it and better it without the opinion of someone who knows how to write and/or edit, or read. Literacy is very important. It saves angels.

In a previous post I spoke about how most writers will think the first draft of their first story is amazing. I thought something along those lines, too. Well, it probably was better than 60% of first drafts by rookie writers. I’m not going to lie about that. It was good for my first shot, but I’ve become much better since then. And, I’m still improving. I will never stop improving, and as long as you have the motivation to be better, and take some hard lessons, you will, too.

A draft is an interesting idea, especially the first and second ones. There will be at least two to four drafts for any story you write. Even short stories and flash fiction. Just get used to that because it will never change. That is a universal truth.

Writers do things differently from one another. I usually start a story with a minimal idea of where it’s going. I used to do that entirely differently. I would plan it out by chapters--the names of the chapters. But, that’s too limiting. Even if you can somehow stick to that (and I have), it only hurts in the end because the story grows and you don’t let it, so you find it brushing up against the fences and making the story look forced. Let it breathe and you’ll do yourself a favor.

The second draft can take on a few forms: slight to major revisions (plot and writing-wise), to a complete overhaul of major story pieces. If you follow my wisdom and allow your story to grow, you’ll be on the former end of that colon list. Hopefully that’s the case. If not, SOL and I told you so.

From draft to draft you will notice yourself making cuts or adding paragraphs and chapters at a whim. That’s okay. It’s better than okay. Whatever makes the story better. Don’t be afraid.

Once you have sent your story around a little, do not immediately start the next draft. Take some time away and let your mind relax. It’ll seem like wasted time and it’ll throw you off for a bit, but it’ll help your mind ferment on the story without you thinking or writing about it. Let that happen for at least two weeks. After that, or whenever you get your first critiques/reviews back, then start up again and make your national bestseller.

See ya around the bend!

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