Falling In Lust With Our First Draft (Or, What Not To Do On A First Date)

Some time ago I posted about Revision [read post here]. Since that time, I’ve had the privilege to speak with dozens of authors about the revision process, revision techniques, and more. As recently as this past weekend, I spoke at a workshop about Robust Revision – and all this talk about revision has gotten me thinking about first drafts.  And this has gotten me thinking about first dates…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Writing is a process of discovery and we don’t always produce our best writing when we first get started on a book.  The first draft is the time to shout “Yes! Yes!” to our ideas and write HOT—write with passion, write with abandon, let it all bubble out there onto the page, don’t play it safe in any way. Then comes a cooling off period…the time when we must step away from the writing and the work for a little while. And then, when it comes time to revise, we will be able to write with a cooler head. Revision is the chance to look critically at what we’ve written to see: if it’s really worth saying; if it says what we meant to say; if a reader will understand what we’re saying; and if a reader will feel want we want them to feel. But before that we need to write HOT.
The hottest moments of our work is the getting it all down in a messy, sprawling first draft. The passion. The “Yes! Yes!” The hot mess. Whether a planner or a panster, however writers get that first draft down is fine. It takes a lot of courage to get something down on paper at all, and what I hope authors will embrace is the notion of writing without revision in first drafts—writing with abandon! There will be plenty of time later for the inner editor to get to work, for the critical eye to start seeing all the faults, for the lights to go on, for the rearranging and reorganizing, for the make-up and polishing.
That time of great intensity and heat is a precious time for an author and their work—and really the only time in the writing process where we can feel free to do whatever we want to do. So do it! Don’t stop. Don’t edit. Don’t think too much. Just go for it.
OK, so we’re in the heat of passion with our first draft—it’s a lustful, expressive, passionate tangle between a writer and the work.  “Yes! Yes!”  But…
…as most teenagers will tell you, the very worst thing that can happen in a heated make-out session on a first date is when someone whispers, “I think I’m in love with you.”
Whoa…say, what?
And that heat index suddenly goes down…
Come on, admit it. I’m right, right?

In the context of writing first drafts, I am a huge proponent of being as insatiably lustful as possible—with words, with ideas, with characters, with scenes, with situations, with drama, with dialogue, with settings, with STORY.  And I caution all writers to approach the writing of first drafts in lust, not in love.  And here’s why: Falling in love too soon with what we've written will absolutely prevent us from being critical and willing to change it.

If we fall in love too soon with what we’ve written, we will be far too hesitant to change it even if we know it’s not that great. But staying in lust with a first draft? That’s more like being on a hot first date with our writing—and that way we can stay open to finding out more about what we’re writing, seeing if we’re really compatible. And we won’t feel guilty for playing the field and chasing other ideas to determine if a new and better story idea comes along, so we can dump the old one without a second thought.

With a first draft, we need to be as ruthlessly lustful as we want—because it will all be over soon enough! And then the necessary period of cooling off can begin. (Because, face it, so much literary lusting can be exhausting and we need to rest and clear our heads.)  And the process of revision can commence. And that’s when the falling in love happens.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC



image from www.chalkboardmanifesto.com 

 procrastinate: from Latin, of tomorrow

I can be a procrastinator.


I admit it. 

I can put things off until…whenever. I can delay. I can come up with excuses. I can opt to do the easy rather than the hard. I can opt to do nothing at all rather than the something.

I’ve always had times of procrastination in my life, even when I was very young. My mom used to call me lazy. In an accusatory, disappointed tone of voice, I might add. That hurt. And it wasn’t accurate. Being “lazy” is something quite different—at least to my mind, anyway—than being a procrastinator.  To me, being lazy is very much the same thing as not caring, being resistant, being idle.  And that’s not how I’m feeling when I’m procrastinating. When I procrastinate doing a thing, I’m actually thinking about that thing a lot—I care deeply about that thing; I know I will be facing that thing head on; I want to do that thing as well as I possibly can. That is, when I eventually—finally—get to it.

When I’m procrastinating, it may appear to others that I’ve gone AWOL . Sometimes my form of procrastination manifests as napping, daydreaming, shopping, or cleaning. And if the thing I’m supposed to be doing is shopping or cleaning then I might procrastinate by working, walking, exercising, or something else. And if the thing I’m supposed to be doing is working or exercising, then I might be petting the cat, organizing the clothes closet, or something else. You get the idea. So, I wouldn’t say my procrastination is laziness at all. Rather, it’s distraction…it’s an alternate view...it’s a means to getting my focus back. Very often while I’m procrastinating I’m strategizing, planning, thinking, creating, and preparing. For what? For the doing of the thing. For the achieving of the thing. For meeting the challenge of the thing.

Some bouts of procrastination last longer than others; some things that need to be tackled can be fraught with fears or doubts; some can be fraught with tension; some can be fraught with boredom. They will get done. They do get done. Eventually. But  not until I'm ready.

What I’ve come to recognize about procrastination is that it's a part of a process that I need very badly to stay focused, productive, and engaged with my work, my writing, my life, and the world around me. Procrastination is my means of recharging and regrouping, of taking a deep breath, my way to take a time out so my mind can wander around until it comes back to center. 

 (c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Playing Make-Believe: World-Building and World-Crafting

Writers are atlas makers
Do you remember playing make-believe when you were little? Playing with your friends, or with dolls or stuffed animals, and creating elaborate and often complex scenarios, relationships, situations, and rules within a make-believe world filled with magic, or monsters, or heroes, or explorers, or princesses, or anything else we could conjure up from our imaginations?

When we’re children make-believe is a way for us to be safe while experimenting with the world, testing boundaries, trying on new personas, pretending to be older, pretending to be adults, letting our imaginations take us as far away from ourselves as we can go, into new worlds and new landscapes. And then, just as Mickey returns from the Night Kitchen in time for breakfast, we can come home again, back into ourselves and into our real worlds, richer for the world of make-believe we know we can explore again whenever we want.

As we grow up, many of us outgrow make-believe. But there are some people who don’t outgrow make-believe at all, and they became…fiction writers! I loved make-believe when I was growing up, and I have no doubt that speaks in some part to how I became a children’s book editor. And one of the most fantastic parts of make-believe for me was the world–the multiple worlds, in fact–I could create in my imagination. Worlds in which I could set all the rules, worlds in which feared creatures became friends, worlds in which puppy-love crushes were manifested, worlds in which disabilities were assets, worlds in which I could be anyone and anything I wanted. So what better way to stay close to the land of make-believe than journeying into worlds created by storytellers?

Whether fantasy or realism, crafting the worlds of our stories is really akin to setting up the worlds we created as children playing make-believe, only this time we’re responsible for creating worlds rich enough, believable enough, and inviting enough for readers to join us, to journey with us, to stay there with us.

World-building is an exciting and often complicated part of writing a great book, made more complex when you recognize that the world of a story must exist on two levels–the actual world in which a main character lives and the internal world in which a main character lives–the emotional and psychological world.

Writers are atlas makers, crafting the maps their characters will need to explore and find their way through literal and figurative landscapes. And the more clearly marked and detailed and interesting these maps are, the more excited and curious readers will be to find their way through these landscapes, too.

 (c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC

This post first appeared on May 7, 2013, as a guest post for Ventana Sierra Workshops (www.ventanasierraworkshops.com) in advance of a June 14-16, 2013, workshop in which Emma Dryden conducts a session entitled, "Constructing the World: Internal & External World Building"


Hearing and Tasting Our Work

"I always find if you read fiction out loud you know what you have to change by what you stumble over." - Alice Hoffman.

As anyone who has worked with me knows, I'm a huge proponent of reading our manuscripts aloud.  It's critical to do this when your work is a picture book--we can all agree that the most successful picture books are not only those that can be read aloud over and over again, but those that we want to read aloud over and over again. So the very best way to write a picture book is to read it aloud as you go along. It's equally critical, though, to read your fiction and non-fiction aloud. Yes, it will take a lot of time, but this must be part of the writing process because the reading process is itself a multi-layered sensory experience. We don't read only with our eyes--as we read, we feel a story; as we read, we sense a story; and as we read, we hear a story.  And so, the very best way to write a novel or non-fiction that will appeal to readers is to read it aloud as you go along. 

Saying something aloud makes it more real for us. We can think something, we can feel something, we can wonder about something, we can even write something down. But I've often found it to be true that when we say what we're thinking or feeling, when we give a voice to it, that's usually when it becomes most real, whether we like it or not. We can't take it back. It's out there.  It's been witnessed. So too, our manuscripts. We must witness our own stories, we must witness our own writing--and by doing so, we will experience our stories and our writing in new ways, in ways that will reveal flaws, in ways that will reveal poetry, in ways that will reveal what we need to adjust, revise, omit, add.  

As we read aloud, we feel our words on our tongues--we taste our words, we taste our stories--and just as there are certain textures and flavors of foods we find delicious or distasteful, so will we begin to recognize what textures and flavors of our writing we find delicious or distasteful. And in so doing, we will be refining our work in ways that will engage the deeper senses of our readers.

We must hear our words. Taste our words. See our words. Feel our words. As we do, our senses will become more acute and we will experience our stories and ourselves more fully, we will share our stories and ourselves more fully.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


What Does Our Backlist Say About Us?

Publishers have backlist – the list of older books still available to the public, as opposed to titles newly published, called frontlist. Building a strong and reputable backlist has traditionally been seen as the way to produce a profitable publishing house. Backlist not only bolsters a publisher’s financial position, but it can also define and bolster a publisher’s reputation and identity.  We look at an imprint’s backlist to get a sense of what the imprint stands for, how diverse or limited the imprint is, how the imprint has performed in terms of awards and reviews, and the overall reputation of that imprint. We don’t necessarily know the editors and designers who work at the imprint, but looking through an imprint’s backlist, we come to assumptions about who those editors and designers are, what they’re interested in, what they care about, what they’re like. Those assumptions may be right, or they may be entirely wrong; it doesn’t matter. Either way, for all intents and purposes, an imprints’ make-up and the make-up of the people behind the imprint will be judged by the backlist.
The concept of being perused and judged – rightly or wrongly – based on backlist doesn’t really need to bother publishers. But let’s think about our own “backlists” – and whether we feel confident in having ourselves judged by strangers based only upon a perusal of all that we’ve made available to the public. Our published works, books, eBooks, apps, music, art—that’s all backlist we have to nurture and sustain. If anyone has heard me speak on this topic, you’ll know I’m a stickler for encouraging no publication of any kind (print, digital, traditional, indie, self, I don’t care) without feeling what we’re publishing and offering to the public represents us the way we want to be represented,  to be seen, and to be judged.  But what about our other backlist? Our internet backlist. As Seth Godin points out in the post that got me thinking about this topic, “the internet doesn’t easily forget.”  It’s important to realize our backlist consists of every post, every photograph, every tweet, every article, every comment, every interview, every publication that we’ve ever made somewhere online. Some of our backlist may be hard to find, just as a publisher’s out-of-print titles may be hard to find. But nothing is impossible to find. It’s called Google. And it reaches back and deep, a trawler without regard for what’s dredged up for anyone to see—friends and family, who may be forgiving; potential employers, agents, editors, and business partners who won’t be.
“Your history of work is as important as the work you'll do tomorrow,” Godin says.  All of our backlist is valuable. Or it ought to be. What does your backlist say about you?
(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Are You Being Served? A Recipe for a Great Critique Group

- 2-12 dedicated authors (can be of different genres & formats; can be of same genre & format)
- heaping doses of imagination
- heaping doses of respect
- heaping doses of sensitivity
- liberal doses of gentle honesty (if you opt for brutal, critique group will become too tough and hard to swallow)
open-mindedness and creative flexibility
- willingness to ask questions and listen to answers
- generous sprinkles of laughter (can use hysteria and guffaws if desired)
timer (enables fair attention paid to each author)
- cough drops & water (enables requisite read-alouds)
bathroom & stretch breaks
delicious food
comfortable setting (a cozy setting is even better, if you can find it)
wine or spirits (for after critiques are completed! Some may find wine or spirits appropriate during, but proceed with caution)
optional: friendly dog and/or cat; fireplace; views (ocean, woodland, mountains, etc.); anything else to enhance experience


Gather ingredients together on a regular basis. Stir with professionalism, exuberance, imagination, and inspiration. Surprises may result. Quiet moments of reflection may be required. Questions can be asked for which there may be no immediate or clear answers. That's ok. Allow for staying open to possibilities; critique groups vary based upon the ratio and balance of ingredients.  

Caution: If each author doesn’t feel heard and respected, the ratio of ingredients has gone awry and you will most assuredly want to double-check your recipe.

Note: Every once in a while, it's a good idea to add a one-time ingredient to this recipe, such as a professional editor or published author who will provide a new voice and perspective to the discussion – this can best be achieved over a weekend. For a sample taste of this sort of enhanced group experience, go to this post from the Route 19 Writers blog. 

This recipe serves many, including a richer society of writers and readers.

  (c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


today marks the 3rd anniversary of drydenbks!

As hard as it is to believe three years have gone by since I put out my shingle, it’s entirely gratifying to be so busy and fulfilled by the work I love—by work that seems to be filling a need in the children’s book community.

During these three years I’ve consulted with authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers, teachers, librarians, doctors, producers, musicians, scholars, executives, technicians, and more—and along the way, with each conversation, with each new idea, with each "why not?", with each "just try it and see," I’ve become a better editor, a smarter person, a more whole human being. 

I move through this world with a heightened awareness of the creativity and imagination that’s all around us and in each of us.  Three years ago, I had to ask myself the tough questions, had to take a leap, had to push myself into the discomfort of the "why not?" and "just try it and see"--and here I am, just trying it and seeing...and the view's great!

drydenbks couldn't be successful without the support of so many colleagues, clients, and friends. I know this. I appreciate this. And am blessed.

with heartfelt thanks to Joanna Marple and Julie Rowan-Zoch for 
taking the drydenbks logo designed by Anne M.Corvi and 
creating this word search in honor of drydenbks’ third anniversary.


When Our Storm Comes

This poem sits over my desk; I see it everyday. But I don't always read it. Today, New Year's Day, I read it anew, with fresh eyes--and promise myself to  pay attention, to pay heed, to witness, to be present, and to allow whatever is meant to happen to happen this year. May my storm unleash that which is creative, spiritual, and surprising. I'm ready.

Lilacs In September
by Katha Pollitt

Shocked to the root
like the lilac bush
in the vacant lot
by the hurricane--

whose back branch split
by wind or rain
has broken out

into these scant ash-
colored blossoms
lifted high
as if to say

to passersby
What will unleash
itself in you
when your storm comes?