Friday, June 19, 2009

What’s That Smell?

First drafts bite.

Well, I'm not sure about everyone's first drafts, but I'm pretty sure about mine. They bite. They are wildly uneven, too short, too long, too slow, too fast-paced, convoluted, boring, and silly. Some of the character's names are stupid, and I find the people I’m writing about do a lot of nodding, shrugging, snorting, and weird things with their eyes. The prose is drab and lifeless, and the sentences hardly whisper, let alone sing. When I go back and re-read what I've written, sometimes I get nauseated. 250px-Monkey-typing

Like I said, my first drafts bite. 

But, with a number of completed manuscripts under my belt (and a few safely stowed under my bed), I know what to expect, and I'm not too worried. I always feel this way as I slog through the first draft of anything I've written. Before I'm finished, I'll probably go back through and change out every word two or three times (or more). I'll move sections around, re-order whole scenes, and change characters' names until I get them just right. Maybe I'll birth siblings or kill off parents or rescue an orphaned puppy. Careers will change, cars will be traded in for newer (or older) models, households will move, and I may even transform a male into a female (no surgery required!). Thank goodness for the global find/replace command in WORD.

Change is the only constant.

Sometimes when I look back on a first draft, I don't even recognize it. Believe me, that's a good thing.

There is one saving grace about a first draft--you get to keep those rare gems you find in the muck. You know, those rare instances when you've (accidentally) turned a great phrase or hit upon the perfect rejoinder or penned the wittiest snatch of dialogue ever. That's when you realize what first drafts are for. Of course, without a first draft, how could you ever have a second draft?

By the way, I'm about a third of the way through a first draft.

It bites.



Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm with you! I have 10,000 more words to go on a first draft (publisher wrote me today to see how it was going.) I told her: GREAT! What else was I going to say? :) It does bite, though.

Love the blogging monkey! You should keep him on your sidebar.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Alan Orloff said...


Thanks for the suggestion.

Now I have a monkey in my sidebar (which, I suppose, is better than a monkey on my back).

Jenny Milchman said...

Peg Brantley had a terrific post on this a while back, Alan. Did you see it? I appreciated hearing your take, too! You two have the opposite problem I do--and perhaps neither is a problem but just our own processes.

But I always believe my first drafts don't only sing but trumpet whole operas at perfect pitch! I am always shocked and sent reeling when the inevitable, Change this, This doesn't work, and What the heck is up with this-es come pouring in.

It's like a fall from a barn loft every time.

But without that conviction (which remains even though by now I know it simply cannot be true) I don't know if I could do it.

I admire your ability to slog through--even without the delusions ;)

Helen Ginger said...

The great thing about first drafts is that, if you keep revising, they lead to a final draft. And every time you change and improve horrible first drafts, you learn and grow. So first drafts are opportunities. Congratulations on completing one third of this opportunity to grow. ;-O

(I, too, am still growing.)

Straight From Hel