Monday, June 14, 2010

The First Draft: Sherrie Petersen

It's Week Two 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 Sherrie Petersen, author of the blog Write About Now.
I’ve always been a perfectionist.

This would be a good thing if I were an accountant. (Numbers—ugh!) But I’m not. I’m a writer. And when it comes to first drafts, perfectionism can be a huge problem.

Take this post for example. I’ve written the opening at least ten times in my head. Then as I typed it out, I deleted and rewrote it three times. We’re talking about a little post here, five hundred words, tops. Apply that tendency to a 50K novel and you’ll see the problem.

I know in the back of my head that first drafts are supposed to be messy. I know that I can’t expect every sentence, every word, to be perfect. But knowing this doesn’t make things any easier.

So I’ve come up with a few tricks to motivate myself to keep going:

1. Rewrite or Die
I like to edit as I go. It helps me get back into my story each day. Of course, I can get hung up rewriting the same chapter every day. I have to remind myself that by the time I get to the end, I’ll probably need to change a lot of things, but I’ll never get there without moving forward. On days when it’s a challenge, Tactic #2 is very helpful.

2. Freewrite
I give myself permission to write a bunch of stuff that I know is not going to end up in the final version. I sit in front of the computer and put down everything I know about each character and how they relate to each other. This often works better for me than an outline because it clarifies motivations and highlights conflicts between my characters. But since it’s not going into the actual story, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

3. No unrealistic minimums
Sometimes setting a huge page or word count goal can be more paralyzing than motivating. Writing one, double-spaced page each day is a big enough goal to get me going and (shh – don’t tell!) I usually end up with more.

4. Placeholders are a good thing
I’ve had days where I keep rewriting the same sentence, over and over. Rather than make myself crazy, I’ll use a placeholder like [insert more anger here] and keep writing. I highlight it so that when I’m ready to edit, I don’t overlook this by mistake. Then I’m free to keep churning out the story in spite of myself.

First drafts thrill me. There’s always that urgent desire in the beginning. I love the story. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Fifty pages in, the real work starts. This story sucks. Why am I writing this? Plowing through the middle is difficult. That’s why there are way more people who want to write a book than there are actual authors.

But persevering to the end is worth it. Even if the story needs work. After all, that’s what second (and third, and fourth) drafts are for.

For a first draft, just finishing is close enough to perfect.

Thanks, Sherrie, for sharing such fabulous insight with us!!


Christina Farley said...

So true! I've always thought of first drafts as a thrill because I never know if I'm going to actually be able to do it. It's such a fantastic feeling to finish the first draft even if it's really awful.

Nomes said...

I love the first draft! And I'm a huge fan of place holders - great tool for when the perfect words just aren't coming but I want to keep flying ahead :)

Kelly Polark said...

Great post! I love first drafts. I do the place holder thing too. I am not a perfectionist as I go. I figure that's what revisions and critique group is for! ;)

Anonymous said...

I also love writing first drafts! I write to my strengths. And then on a second pass tighten up writing and add more sensory details. First drafts can be a lot of fun.

Tess said...

Who doesn't love that first draft? Like an exciting new relationship...when you haven't figured out that they snore or leave the toilet seat up or never wear matching socks.

Good to see you over here Sherrie :D

Andrea Mack said...

Getting the first draft finished is the hardest part for me. But doesn't it feel great when you do!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Thanks for having me, Tabitha. This was fun!

Vonna said...

I've started my own first draft this month, so it's going to be a fun summer. Thanks for sharing your process, Sherrie.

Anonymous said...

"For a first draft, just finishing is close enough to perfect."

Words to live by!

Jessica Bell said...

Great tips, Sherrie! Thanks for both of you for sharing. :o)
Ps: Tabitha I'm new to your blog. Nice to meet you!

PJ Hoover said...

Placeholders are key for me! I use them all the time.
Great post, Sherrie!