emma d dryden's thoughts
on the stories we tell &
the stories we live
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 workshopabout 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.”
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. Butstaying 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.