First Drafts and Other Hurricanes

Hemingway Draft copy

Ernest Hemingway once said,

“The first draft of everything is shit.”

Maybe it is, but it also depends on what you term to be a First Draft. As my approach to writing has changed a bit over the years, I no longer write and edit as I go along, but instead, simply write until I get to the end and then start the process of re-writing/editing/correcting.

So is a first draft simply the first version of the finished novel? Maybe, maybe not.

The first novel I attempted to write without worrying about spelling, grammar, editing etc, was Mortlake, book 2 in my mid-range children’s adventure ‘The Maps Of Time.’  During the writing process I found myself feeling a little unnerved by my new regime and consequently began to make a few ‘rules’ to keep in mind, that I hoped would make life easier:

Don’t wait for the right word/phrase
Normally I strive to find the exact word or phrase that I need. Finding that word or phrase can, of course, take time and any time spent looking for it means time not writing, so what I do now is to write something that sounds like the sort of thing I’m looking for, so I’ll know what I was thinking about when I come back to it later. For instance in this passage I wanted to describe a puppet show, but wasn’t clear on what sort of puppets I had in mind or how to describe it. In my first draft, I wrote something like:

Charlie stops to watch a puppet show, distracted by the colours and stuff.

The first re-write sounded like this:

He stands for a moment, as the young puppeteer begins to run through his repertoire

with one of the marionettes. The gaily-coloured toy dances a jig on the grimy

cobblestones, oversized wooden feet clattering and tapping an infectious rhythm.

Don’t delete the beginnings – yet:
Sometimes it takes a few goes to get into a new novel and that first couple of paragraphs may feel right at the time, but won’t necessarily work later on. In the past I’ve tended to delete anything that doesn’t seem right, but now I’ve learned to just leave it – even when I’m fairly sure it’ll end up going the way of all flesh. Why? Because it might be useful elsewhere in the novel or it might shed light on my thinking about a particular character or scene. So even if I do get rid of that original opening eventually, I’ll leave it until I’m absolutely sure it doesn’t work, just in case.

In terms of ‘Mortlake’ my original first scene related to what happened at the end of the first book, but it got the old heave-ho because I realized I needed something that would grab the reader’s attention, whether they’d read the previous book or not.

Leave the damn mouse alone:
I’ve never been one for using those pesky little pads on laptops to negotiate my way around my screen – no, like Walt Disney, I prefer the mouse. And because I prefer it I tend to hang on to it, cling to it almost, and consequently highlight anything that isn’t perfect and immediately re-write/edit/delete as appropriate. Since this is simply another interruption to my writing, I’ve discovered that standing up to write (see my earlier post) is a great way to avoid this habit, as I can’t reach the mouse from my new standy-up position. (NB Since posting this, I now use a standing desk where the mouse is within reach, so I’ve trained myself to ignore it!)

So not using the mouse means I write faster and less episodically, leading to a finishing-post that’s in sight, rather than a mere dot at the end of a long, long, tunnel.

By the way, the Hurricanes mentioned in the title of this post obviously don’t exist, except for those rather windy tumbleweedy thoughts that clog up my brain when I’m trying to write. Just in case you were wondering.

  2 comments for “First Drafts and Other Hurricanes

  1. 26/08/2016 at 10:59 AM

    Oddly enough, I’m struggling to resist the temptation to start working on editing the first 24 chapters of my WIP. I am probably about three quarters through writing the first draft of this book. I thoroughly enjoy the editing process and have previously jumped back to the start and redrafted earlier chapters on each of my earlier eight books well before I’d finished writing their final chapters. Until this book. Like you, I’m now writing the book as it flows without tinkering as I go. It’s debatable whether I’ll manage to complete writing the end of the book before weakening and treating myself to working on the previous chapters. I congratulate myself on reaching chapter 24 without cracking, but I am feeling decidedly twitchy.


    • 26/08/2016 at 11:39 AM

      Yes, it’s hard to resist the lure of the edit and I’m also having just as much trouble with my WIP to stop myself from reading the whole thing through from the beginning every time I sit down to write. As Dory didn’t say – ‘Just keep writing, just keep writing…’


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