Monday, June 07, 2010

The First Draft: Jennifer Hubbard

It's First Drafts month here at Writer Musings!  What does a first draft mean to you?  How do you write yours?  Does it change for each project, or is it the same each time?

For the entire month of June, we will be hearing from various writers in various stages. And each of them will share what a first draft means to them. Today, we will hear from Jennifer Hubbard, author of The Secret Year.

First Drafts: The Raw Material. And I Do Mean Raw.
Jennifer R. Hubbard

The first draft is a an adventure. It starts with an idea, some idea, any idea. Character, plot, setting, situation. It may nestle up in a corner of the brain for weeks, motnhs, years, or it may burst out after only a few minutes. That germ of an idea may make its ifrst appearance on a candy wrapper or in a notebook, or it may have the patience to wait until a the writer is sitting before the computer. [titles of first drafts]
The first drtaft appears in a computer file, single-spacesd, flush left, no spaces between paragraphs. W And not much attention to captitalization, puncutuation, typos, either. It flows like a stream of consciousness, very little editing on the fly, with idea s of what to include later put in brakcets [like this].
I may have an idea, but a first draft has no traction until i have the voice, the narrative voice, the voice that tells the story. For that reason, I rarely shift the POV later on, although it’s beenknown ot happen.
I amade a note above to mention titles of first drafts—the first draft gets saved in the computer under any old name: the naem of the main character (which name generally proves temporary), or the spark of the idea that made me write the story even though that concept or thing may ultimately vanish from the final drfaft.

The above is what a first draft of mine looks like. I cringe at displaying it uncorrected that way—what I really want to do is put a watermark through it saying “First Draft, Deliberately Uncorrected to Illustrate a Point!” so that it can never be quoted out of context as an example of what a sloppy writer I am. I don’t think I’ve ever shown anyone a first draft of mine—there’s no reason to, since first drafts are for my eyes only. My critiquers never see anything until it’s been through multiple drafts.

But I’m leaving this example the way it is, because it’s as close as I can come to conveying, in its most raw form, a real first draft. The first draft is fun because my only mission at that point is to get something down—anything. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, if you believe Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird), it should be considerably less than perfect.

As you can see from the above, my first draft offers opportunities to the writer in the same way that certain cliffs offer handholds and footholds to a rock-climber. There are obvious mistakes that need correction; there are bracketed comments with notes about paths I need to follow or problems I need to fix. I don’t have to think too long about where to jump in: anywhere is fine!

One reason so much is uncorrected in the above section is that my goal with a first draft is to keep moving forward. As I type, I’m aware of making mistakes, but I know they can be fixed later. It’s more important to chase down the next sentence before it gets away.

My first drafts are also spare. Including the details of the setting, building up symbolism, tinkering with the rhythm, deepening the character motivation, and perfecting word choice can be done in later drafts. As I revise, I can also move text around so that it’s more coherent (as opposed to just writing down ideas in the order they occurred to me, as I did in the example).

I realize that I’ve strayed here into talking about revision, but I think that’s the point. And what I mean by that is: The purpose of a first draft is to be revised. A first draft is a milestone, a way station. I may decide to abandon the journey without taking the draft any farther, but it doesn’t make the first draft a completed work.

The first draft is the beginning. It’s raw material, the hunk of clay I cut off and plunk down on my worktable, ready for shaping. It lives to be changed.

Thanks for sharing such amazing insights, Jenn!
For more First Draft goodness, come back next monday for another perspective.


Robby said...

As I am just about to begin a first draft, this is very much appreciated. Thank you.

Anna Staniszewski said...

"The purpose of a first draft is to be revised."

This is so very true! Sometimes the one thing that keeps me going through a crappy first draft is the knowledge that I'll get to revise soon.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Great example of how messy first drafts can be :)

Unknown said...

I love this! It's brave to share a first draft with the world, so thanks Jennifer :) It's inspiring. I made the mistake of stopping to tweak my first draft so it took much, much longer for me to get my story down than it should have. Next time I'll follow this advice and just keep on chugging!

Danyelle L. said...

First drafts are my favorite! :)

cleemckenzie said...

I'm such a sissy. I keep my first drafts locked away, but I never toss them. They're great to remind me just how far I came from the beginning to writing The End on that final version.

Thanks, Jenn.

Anonymous said...

That was very illustrative. Thanks for sharing.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing your insights. They make me feel better as I am going back to one of my first drafts which is rougher than I imagined.

Alix said...

Great post. I am half way through a first draft and it's nice to be reminded that the purpose of first drafts is to be revised.

Thanks for sharing Jennifer.

PJ Hoover said...

Jenn and Tabitha, this is great! Thank you for posting. I love the mistakes :)

Mary Witzl said...

Very timely post, and very useful!

I'm tackling a first draft right now, revising it, checking for inconsistencies, etc. I have almost no spelling mistakes as I am pretty anal about that -- but if ONLY revision were just checking and fixing spelling and grammatical infelicities! The awful truth is that it's far harder. It's cutting out the writing deadwood, the unfunny bits that were supposed to be funny, the conversation that sounds stilted, the characters who do out-of-character things, the stream of consciousness stuff that is totally expositional.


Matt said...

I'm hoping to finish my first draft in the next month and it is pretty messy so far. I was worried it might get unmanageable, but I'm feeling better about it now. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I like the way you think!