Which is to say that I finished the first draft of a book that I will undoubtedly write four more times before it is a book. Really, this week I finished a manuscript, but calling it a book feels a little bit better. This might be akin to referring to one’s puppy as his or her baby, but alas, I wrote a book.
As you can see from my word count record, I wrote the first 11k words back in December, and then I wrote the remaining 40k in twelve days.
Now hang on, and please don’t kill me. Rest assured that this is a Shitty First Draft. A skeleton draft. A NaNoWriMo deal. Or what I affectionately refer to as my “Falling Down the Stairs Draft.”
There are many amazing reasons for getting a first draft down, and I’m sure you’ve heard them. The chief of these being that looking beyond the perfectionism of sentence level is key to reaching the end. I certainly can’t say it any better than Anne Lamott does in Bird By Bird:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. […] Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”
For me, I wrote my new story in under two weeks because I didn’t know what it was about. I had the characters, the plot points, and the end in my brain, but I didn’t know what any of that would feel like until I gave the whole shebang some words.
Let’s picture it like this: I had a lofty cloud of ideas and possibilities. It was a beautiful cloud, but to make the story real, I had to get it down to earth. Now I could have carefully, cautiously, painstakingly walked it down one step at a time, but instead, I threw both of us off the landing, unaware of what might happen at the bottom. Keep in mind that this is a violent metaphor because it knocks me around in the process. But in the end, I had done it. I WROTE A BOOK!
Now, I’m not silly enough to believe that the Falling Down The Stairs Draft is right for every writer or for every book. But I’d like to reach a hand out to all those writers who are doing the “one step forward, three steps back” dance with their story. I implore you to give the fast draft a try. And instead of telling you all the reasons in which this method will help you, I will talk about the snags, so that when you hit them you can KEEP WRITING.
1. Your writing will suck.
Yep. That’s going to happen. You won’t be writing prophetic poetry. You’ll be writing terrible things. Repetitive things. My favorite is a goofed dialogue tag I once wrote that read, “she said as a reply.” Niiice.
2. You’ll change your mind about something important.
I once heard Coe Booth talking about a draft that she was writing in which her character had a little sister when he went to bed in the middle of the story and woke up the next day with a little brother. And Coe kept writing.*
The reason that you must run with the changes that occur in your manuscript is that they’re most likely coming from a flow state…and the only way you can stay with the flow is to keep writing.
3. You realize what the book is really about.
EUREKA! You’ve done it! You can feel it! You can see it! Why keep going forward when you can turnaround and write it perfectly now?! DON’T GIVE IN TO THIS! Keep writing. Keep going. What feels amazingly perfect one day is likely to fall apart the next day unless you’re looking at the whole darn thing. Promise.
4. You realize that this won’t be a draft you can send off to your beta readers or agent along with a shower of confetti glitter.
This draft is for you. No one else. It’s for your drawer or locked file for at least a month after writing it, regardless of whom you’re feeling daring enough to show it to you. After that well-deserved break, reread it yourself, and if you’re determined to share it with someone, pick the one reader who can overlook sixteen sentences in a row that start with “I was.”
Yes. You are. Possibly in a brand new .doc, but you know what? It’ll never be from scratch again because you’ve already scratched a complete story in your brain. Trust yourself. You will remember all the important pieces, and when you’re sitting down to write all the pretty words, you’ll find yourself no longer in the clouds but at ground level–the foundation already laid out. Ready to be built upon.
So what are you waiting for? Jump!
Cori McCarthy is the author of The Color of Rain and Breaking Sky (forthcoming March ’15). She holds a BA in Creative Writing, a professional degree in screenwriting, and an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults. She is also a writing coach and editor through Yellow Bird Editors and loves working with writers of all genres and walks of life.
Find out more about her antics at www.CoriMcCarthy.com or follow her on Twitter @CoriMcCarthy
*I believe Coe was referring to her amazing debut Tyrell, which you should totally read. Also check out her brand new book Kinda Like Brothers, pictured above.