I understood last week one of the main reasons why I dislike the insistence many people put upon the notion that “the first draft is crap,” and that one must always just get everything down first, and polish it later. Especially the firmness with which those people insist one must never, ever go back and edit in one’s first draft, that once one does that one will never finish.
One of the reasons, of course, that I dislike those statements is that I’m not a huge fan of dogmatism about a process that is deeply personal and individualistic. No two people write the same way, so why would you insist that everybody’s first drafts must all look alike?
The other, more personal, reason is that I am actually more likely to leave a story unfinished if I have a terrible first draft than if I’ve been tweaking it and polishing it as I go.
I had realized, while working on Magic in Disguise, that I was going to need to come up with another plot twist, that the story as it stood was both too straightforward (i.e. boring) and would not be long enough. Now, conventional wisdom would tell me to keep writing the first draft, and add in the plot twist/extra scenes in the second draft. But the more I kept trying to work on it that way, the more frustrated I got.
Why? Because every time I looked at how much I had already written, I grew discouraged. “Why get excited about hitting 30,000 words?” I muttered to myself (while sitting on a lawn chair outside the tent set up at my mother-in-law’s house, while we were camping there – I know, I lead a really rough life). “Even once I get to the end, there’s still going to be so much work to be done on this to get it in decent shape.” And then I started to get overwhelmed about how much still needed to be done on the book that I didn’t want to work on it at all.
Then an idea for the needed plot twist came to me, and first I started just writing it, then when I saw that it was working I took a quick break from the writing to adapt my outline to it, just to make sure it would fit, and then I went back to adapting my first draft, and suddenly feeling much more cheerful about the whole thing. Because now the second draft was looking like much less work, and so whatever progress I made on the first draft counted.
More work first, less work later. That’s my writing process, and I’m owning it. My first drafts are as close to the finished product as I can get them, and subsequent drafts just polish them and polish them until they’re ready. That’s how my brain works, and I don’t care if anyone tells me it’s the “wrong” way to craft a story.
It’s the right way for me.