Great Expeditions: The First Draft

I’ve yet to decide whether I love or loathe first drafts. It would be wrong to think that I’m ambivalent. Love and loathe are strong words that can’t be watered down and made neutral. Conquistadors didn’t use expressions like so-so: it was either triumph or damnation. That’s how I feel about first drafts — a journey without maps.

Just like the explorers of yore, I’m not alone on this voyage because my internal shrink and my inner bean counter have hitched a ride in steerage. To pass the time, the shrink suggests that I both love and loathe first drafts, perhaps periodically, maybe even simultaneously. Not to be outdone, the bean counter demands eight hours a day pre-project research while we’re still on-board the steamship.

The beginning of the adventure is always a love part because the characters are still fresh, the limits of the story boundless, and the hope of what’s to be achieved shining like a North Star overhead. This usually lasts for about fifteen or twenty K and then night falls. Now I’m cold, hungry, and basically buggered. Big predators hunt at night, too.

Loathing takes many forms. Whispering in your ear to turn around and go back is a common one. Ignore that voice, I say, for it can only lead to folly! But now that feckless shrink is into one of his great orations, questioning the main character’s motivation, tearing holes in the premise. In the depths of the frozen night, I take down notes to ponder on tomorrow’s hike because I’m going forward regardless of these bites and stings. To hell with it all, it’s only a first draft!

But it doesn’t have to be like this.  I could be sat by a lake in a writer’s cabin, snorkelling after a morning session; without going to work, I’d have nothing to be concerned with except the colours of the fish. In conditions like this, I’d write more literary scenes, acts with better pace, and characters the world has never seen. A thousand words a day, that’s seven K a week (I’m working weekends because I’m enjoying it so much, you see). In three months I’d be done —  and in a civilised fashion. (Current novel word length trends by genre here and here if you’re interested)

But back to the woods because that was just a ruse to make me lose heart! Yet wait, dawn’s approaching, and how other writers work is of no concern out here in the jungle. What’s been written, whatever its flaws, has got me this far. The only writer I can be is me. Staggering in my backpack, filled entirely with correction notes for the second and third drafts, I thrash into the dense bush shouting: to hell with it, it’s only a first draft!

And despite the inner accountant’s demands for increased daily output and the feckless shrink’s snide remarks about stupid plots and weak character choices, the journey continues. I’m over the hump and enjoying the trek again. Creativity: breathe it in, because on a day like today, you might even stumble upon a waterfall.

Next week, Andrew Oberg will take another look at motivation.

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3 Comments

  1. Andrew
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    This is quite literary itself! 🙂 Beautiful post.

    Glad you’re enjoying the journey P. It is, after all, the destination.

  2. Paul
    Posted October 8, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Big birthday bash this weekend. Two nights on the bounce. I was trying to keep it low key this year as well. In line with my post, I guess the compound hangovers equate to being holed up in my bivouac in a tropical downpour. All trekking currently suspended.

  3. Andrew
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    That’s right! Happy happy birthday! Good to see that you’re still charging into each new year. 🙂 hehe

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