Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Potential of First Drafts

Throughout the whole Nanowrimo process, I have a tendency to beat myself up for the perceived weaknesses of my new manuscript. The errors and flaws jump out at me. I worry that the piece is really worth nothing and a waste of time.  I think, "Will I have spent all of November, pouring out words for a manuscript that is too hokey, not engaging enough, riddled with too many characters and not enough suspense?"

I receive e-mails from the Gotham Writer's Workshop in New York.  They always provide good encouragement for writers and valid things to think about.  But, recently, Kelly Caldwell, their Dean of Faculty, wrote up a piece about first drafts.  These were words I needed to hear.  My rough draft might be rough and have tons of holes and weaknesses, but there are also things of great value there.  Even if it might not look like it on the surface, there are elements which, once mined and refined, will yield a good story.  She writes:

 "As everyone from Anne Lamott to William Zinnser, from Julia Cameron to Walter Mosley has told us, writing is a miraculous blend of the subconscious and the conscious. Our subconscious mind works away at our stories, and in our first (and second and third) drafts, we tap it, as miners tap veins within rock, to unlock its treasures. In revision, we bring our conscious minds to the effort, thinking about and experimenting with our structure, our themes, our words.

"Most gems do not emerge from the earth smooth and sparkly. Some natural gemstones must be hammered and cut to release their precious cargo; some are washed in cyanide, or bathed in pearl essence. Before any of that, miners must identify which lumps of rock will yield precious gems, and which are just rocks....

"Clich├ęs, repetitions, elliptical descriptions, themes that just won’t quit, characters who won’t go away – on the surface, in our rough drafts, they can look like just so much bad writing. But on second look, we need to evaluate them with some care, and dispassion. Sometimes they are, or they point to, natural gemstones, that with excavating, cutting, and polishing, become precious."

As I pray that my "bad writing" will turn into something of value with revision and digging, I offer up to you, fellow writer, this encouragement as well.  Don't chuck your first draft.  Don't belittle your efforts.  Remember, you cannot see what wealth is hidden beneath the surface.  There is a reason your story needs to see the light of day. Just keep plugging away until that story is presentable and the great potential has been fully tapped. Your future reader will thank you for not giving up too soon.


As of 11/15, I am 45,334 words into the Nanowrimo goal. Not bad progress at all!

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