Monday, February 20, 2023

FIRST DRAFT aka Cow Manure -- by Christine


As a passionate gardener I cannot overstate the value of good, sterilized cow manure for my vegetable patch and perennials. But we’re not talking about my other passions, we’re talking about that first draft of whatever you’re writing, full-length manuscript to a short blog piece, and everything in between. Or as in my current work-in-progress, a dual time novel which adds a whole new dimension to developing that first draft.

 Rachel recently shared about the fear of the blank page and I’m following up with a truth that as a writer you must absolutely come to believe with the driven devotion of an Irish monk on the barren island of Skellig. Your first draft will be and must be absolute #@&%, in polite words—cow manure. 

 I know it’s hard, believe me I know, but you must get words on the page. You may end up tomorrow or several months from now deleting 50% of those words, but here’s the thing:  50% or less—or more—may end up being absolute gold, an absolute treasure of a scene or the surprising development of a character, etc. You will use these standout passages later to craft the rest of your story.

The temptation, however, to edit your first draft as you write is overwhelming. You read over those first words, and you cringe. But don’t go back. Hold on to your vision with the tenacity of that Irish monk as a full-scale gale whips you back against that thin, rocky cliff.

 As I write my thoughts on first drafts, I must insert a but, a huge BUT. I cannot go any further on this theme because I believe I have put the cart before the horse. Another garden or farm analogy. I confess that I am not a seat-of-the-pants writer but an outliner. In my opinion, before you start the first draft you’ve got to put in some planning work. No first draft really goes smoothly until you have worked on the following:

  • Premise
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Preliminary Research
  • Outline

 With first drafts though I must interject an analogy from another of my passions—art. When working with clay one must repeatedly slam the clay onto a work surface to force out air bubbles. Then you slap that clay on in huge clumps. Then you begin to scrape away huge amounts of that clay to sculpt and carve the image you desire. It’s the same with your novel. You can’t really edit until you’ve got the whole lump to work with. The objective is to flesh out the outline into 70-100k words, no matter how those words fail to live up to your dreams.

 It’s okay if it’s messy – you’re just getting the story down in detail on the first round. The depth and beautiful language, etc. comes later when you can see the whole story.

To keep your motivation up during this time, remember that artists, no matter whether they are painting, sculpting, writing music or fiction, see the finished vision in their heads. This is what motivates us to keep going when the raw material is rough and ragged. As imperfect as the first draft seems now, once it’s all down, you’ll have the opportunity to craft that clay into that Bust of Nefertiti or carve that Michelangelo’s David out of marble.

 Remember to be that driven monk on the Isle of Skellig. Keep the faith until you’re done.

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