Monday, June 21, 2010

The First Draft: PJ Hoover

It's Week Three of 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'll be hearing from PJ Hoover, author of The Forgotten Worlds trilogy: The Emerald Tablet, The Navel of the World, and forthcoming The Necropolis.

FIRST DRAFTS: Be the Hare. And the Tortoise.

I live my life like the tortoise. I strive for consistency. I don’t like to start anything I don’t plan to finish. And as the years go by, I’ve come to understand the best way to do this is to live like the tortoise. Want a black belt? Go to Kung Fu three hours a week for two years and you’ll have one. Trying to memorize a poem? Learn a single line each day. By using this tortoise methodology, almost anything can get accomplished from painting the house to—you guessed it—writing a novel. Yes, you can write a novel by writing a single page each day. And this is a great plan!

But then the hare reminds you he’s in the race too. And he demands attention.

I give the hare proper attention in my first draft stage, because though he doesn’t always use the best judgment, he does have one great thing going for him. Forward momentum. The faster he runs, the less likely it is he’ll slow down. (The secret for the hare is to not let him get distracted.) And so, when I’m writing my first drafts, I write them as quickly as possible. The words start flowing, and I never want them to stop. I want to take that forward momentum and run with it.

Why? Because, for me, there’s nothing quite so motivating as seeing the pretty words fill up page after page quickly. And the more motivated I feel, the more I write. And the more I write, the more motivated I feel. Yes, you get it, I know. It’s a perfect circle.

So I have this process. I plan for a bit. I get through that first draft as fast as I can. And then what? What have I really accomplished?

For me, the first draft represents the skeleton of my story that will come in revisions. I’m willing to take the time to fill in all those sinewy details as I revise, but knowing I have those bare bones grants me that huge feeling of accomplishment. If someone asks if I’ve written another book, I answer with a resounding “Yes!”

But, you might say, what happens when my story idea changes in the middle of the first draft? What if I decide on page 75 that the main character really needs a dog? Do I go back and add in the dog from page 1 onward? Not a chance. That’s why Microsoft Word has the comment feature. I insert a comment wherever I am that I need to add in a dog, and then I move onward. I don’t give in to those distractions like the hare.

So be the tortoise. And be the hare. Be consistent but move forward quickly.

Take Newton’s First Law of Motion:
Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

And modify it for writing:
Words flowing toward the completion of a first draft tend to continue flowing unless an external force is applied to them.

Resist the force and finish that first draft!


Andrea Mack said...

I think it's important to get through the first draft fairly quickly too. For me, some things change, others need to be added or deleted by the time I get to the end.

Anna Staniszewski said...

I love this comparison! In my writing, I feel like I'm in the midst of a constant balancing act between tortoise and hare - but it seems to work in some strange way.

Anonymous said...

True for first drafts. True for first "drafts" of any serious endeavor. Preparing a talk? Writing a piece of code? Creating a new product? Learning a script to perform? Creating a website? A business?

I've a friend who's a playwright - and she likes to remind me of the first draft, "It doesn't need to be great, it needs to be done."

Vonna said...

Great analogy, PJ. I'm trying to hare through my first draft right now. But for me, a good break through the starting gate is essential to keep up that forward momentum. I'm on take three of my first chapter, and I think I've got it now. Onward!

Unknown said...

I'm glad I stopped by! Okay so I am so much like you at the beginning of the process, I'm the hare and write the story as quickly as possible but I've never gone back to be the tortoise afterwards. I think now that I am aware of how you use your comment section that will be the route I take. My story has transformed a ton and notes would help move it along so when I'm ready to re-write I can go about it more cautiously!

Great guest blog today!

Becky Levine said...

WONDERFUL post. I'm struggling with this right now, but I love your way of looking at it. And--huh--you'd think I would have THOUGHT about using the comments feature for those notes; I'm still on sticky notes on my hard copy. Someday, I'll catch up to this millenium.

PJ Hoover said...

Glad I'm not the only one, Andrea! My first drafts are scary but finished :)

Thanks, Anna! It does seem to work...just like magic!

Oh, I love that comparison, coach! Is is for everything we do in life.

PJ Hoover said...

Wow, Vonna, I bet your first chapter rocks! Sometimes mine stick and sometimes they change completely.

Thanks, Jen! The comments are invaluable to me. I can make notes on anything I need to do - things like making sure eye color is consistent to things like noting when the plot is dragging.

Becky, you are totally in this millennium. For a while my old critique group even used the comment feature for critiques. I do this a lot when reading stuff for other people.

Thanks for visiting, everyone!

Natalie Aguirre said...

What a great analogy. I've tended to be too much of a toroise, trying to get it all perfect and having to revise anyway. I'm hoping to be more of a hare on the draft of my second book.

What's the word count range you strove for in the final drafts of your The Forgotten Worlds series? I'm trying to figure out appropriate an word count of a middle grade fantasy for older middle graders.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Great analogy, PJ! Though today I'm feeling like the tortoise ;p

Tabitha said...

I *love* the comments feature in Word. It keeps me from going back and redoing too much on that first draft, which will likely get me stuck in a loop (like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day) and never finish. :)

Thanks so much for sharing such excellent thoughts with us today, PJ!

Mary Witzl said...

The tortoise-hare analogy works for me too. I tend to get bogged down in details. I'm afraid I would go back and put the dog in, painstaking bit by painstaking bit. I see that I need to get my tortoise and hare modes straight. You're right: there is definitely a place for both, but it's sorting out when to be one and when to be the other that is important.

Anonymous said...

Great post! It's similar to my own process, although I don't bother with the Comment function--I just stick a bracketed note to myself into the text. Not much worry about accidentally leaving it in there, since I will be going through the ms. about 40 bazillion more times.

Go, Hare!

PJ Hoover said...

I bet your drafts are great though, Natalie! My word counts for The Forgotten World books range from 65K-72K.

I always have those days, Sherrie!

Thank you so much for hosting me, Tabitha! You rock!

So important to sort that out, Mary. There is always that temptation to go back and change stuff, but I fight it.

LOL, Jenn! I admit I'm guilty of parenthesis comments in the text to to fill in details (especially small detailed ones).