After weeks of dithering, note-taking, and reading, I finally started work on my new book.
I forgot how much fun first drafts can be. There are no rules. You can change characters’ names right in the middle of the sentence if you want. You can defy the rules of grammar, spelling, and structure. Hell, you can defy logic and the laws of physics if you want.
Sometimes I wish I were the sort of writer who could plot everything in advance and know exactly where the story is going, but I can’t. At least, not with the first draft.
For me, the first draft is the exploration phase. This is where I get surprised by events and characters. I’m only 10,000 words in and already one character completely shocked me, a new character I hadn’t expected just showed up, fully formed, and the story seems to be about something I never expected.
FIRST DRAFTS DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT OR EVEN GOOD. THEY JUST HAVE TO BE WRITTEN.
See? Hemingway knew.
So, accept the excrement, embrace the poop, surrender to the inevitable shittiness. The surest way to not finishing the work is to demand perfection of yourself every step of the way.
For now, while the story is unfolding the only rule that applies is this one:
OK, perhaps all that is a tad disingenuous. After all, as I told you at the start, I spent weeks before I sat down to write in contemplating the story, in reading around the period and in making notes about characters and plots. So even though I don’t know much about the details of the novel or how specific elements are going to come into play, I do have a general idea of what’s going to happen. Since this is a sequel, I have a strong handle on my main characters. In broad terms, I know where I want the story to end up.
BUT. That doesn’t mean I can’t allow myself some latitude. Perhaps a character dies though I was expecting him to be there for the long haul. Maybe there are subplots and developments that I never expected. Those are good things. If I, the writer, am surprised by the way the story unfolds, the greater the likelihood that the reader will be surprised too.
The important thing, though, is to be loose about it. If something seems to be taking you in the wrong direction, just follow it and see where you end up. It may be far more exciting a place than you originally intended. Above all, you don’t want to stifle the story. So what if you end up at a brick wall. This is a first draft. Take a sledgehammer and break through the wall. Or climb over it. Or go back to the point where you lost your way and try again. Be free, grasshopper, and trust the process.
Anne Lamott said it best:
So, here’s to being bad. Here’s to writing purple prose and festooning the pages with green glitter. Here’s to bad taste, inconsistencies, and implausible conclusions.
Relax. Have fun. Be naughty.
It’ll be our secret.