Monday, October 24, 2011

Why First Drafts are the Best Drafts

I'll probably get run out of town for saying this, but I love first drafts. They're by far the best drafts I ever write of anything. No, they're not grammatically correct, and granted, they go on and on in weird directions that often, upon second glance, make no sense. But still, I love them more than any other draft, even the final one.

Let me explain.

Writing a first draft is about saying "yes." Most of the time, we are forced to say "no" -- when shopping, when taking on projects at work, when trying to decide between seeing a movie or getting coffee. "No" shapes our experience much more than "yes" does, overall.

And yet, when we sit down to write, we can say "yes" to anything. ANYTHING! Think about that for a minute. True, you don't want to start off writing a book about werewolves and end up writing about the stock market crash of 1929. That would be a pain in the ass.

But barring that, you can write about anything you want. So why would you censor yourself? I see authors outlining their brains out, and I'm not saying it's a bad thing to do in general (I mean, truth be told, I write up general outlines when I write), but my advice is to not let outlines box you in too much.

For instance, with the wip I'm working on now, I deviated from my outline on page ten or so. I refer to it now and again, but for the most part, I haven't looked back. I realized early on that most of the groundwork I'd laid no longer served the story that was emerging from my imagination.

And that's the important thing to remember, in my opinion: an outline should serve your imagination, help to organize it a little better. It shouldn't work the other way around, where your imagination has to take a back seat to rigid organization.

Saying "yes" means that you have to be ultimately flexible, able to accept new ideas and write them down without questioning them. And also, you have to be prepared for your draft to take longer than one associated with a strict outline would take.

But what you get in return is so much cooler.

I barely ever question ideas in a first draft. They come from a mysterious room in the dungeon of my brain, from behind a door that's been bricked over and covered with wallpaper. Somehow or other, little chinks of mortar have chipped off, and when I write, a faint breeze starts to blow out of the room and straight into my fingers.

This air has been bottled up for so long, told that it must live in darkness at the bottom of a pit ten thousand feet deep, that you can barely feel it coursing through you. But it's there, all the same. So what a pity it would be stamp it out.

A lot of people never make it out of the first draft stage. I've abandoned lots of projects before finishing even one draft. We all do it. And I think I've mostly done it because I didn't see how I could finish those drafts, given the chaos that had broken out in them. But looking back, I really wish I'd hung in there, because there's no telling how beautiful they could've been if I'd just kept opening myself up to what they could become.

Say "yes" as much as you can, especially in your first draft. You'll end up with lots of unusable stuff, but you'll also end up with cool ideas that never would've occurred to you had you stuck close to your outline.

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