Monday, June 28, 2010

The First Draft

It's the final week 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?

So far, we’ve heard from Jennifer Hubbard, Sherrie Petersen, and PJ Hoover. It’s been wonderful hearing about how differently everyone attacks a first draft, how differently we all feel about them, and what we do with them! Today, I’m going to share my ideas on the first draft.

I hate them. They are my least favorite part of writing – but I think that’s mostly because of how my writing process has evolved. When I first started writing, I thought the first draft would be the only draft. As in, the first time I wrote ‘The End,’ I thought I was done! HA. I can now look back on those days and laugh at myself. :)

After I realized I’d have to actually revise, I tried revising as I went. It kind of worked, but I was still missing big pieces and couldn’t figure out why. So I took a few steps back and looked at the big picture...and I realized that’s exactly what I was missing: the big picture.

Now, when I begin a first draft, I have to have all the pieces of my big picture, plus a few extra (just in case). To do this, I sit down and explore every single possibility for my story. I write down every possible outcome, character, pivotal scene, main plot piece, characters, relationships, everything. Even the ridiculously stupid things. It’s a lot of work, and can sometimes take weeks until I feel like I have everything I need. But, for me, it’s necessary. Here’s why.

In doing this all this work, I’m essentially creating the pieces to a puzzle. I don’t know what the final image is going to look like yet, so I don’t know what I’m going to need. So I kind of gather up everything that I think I might need, and then guess at in the order in which they need to fit together. If I’m missing a piece, then I get frustrated. Or, if I have to create a new piece to fill a hole in the puzzle, it doesn’t usually fit right – which means I end up forcing it in, and that makes the story feel forced. But if I have more pieces than I need when I begin, that eliminates some of those problems.

When you sit down to do a jigsaw puzzle, how do you start? Personally, I separate out all edge pieces and put those together first. I don’t particularly like this part of puzzle-building, because I don’t get to see the image forming in front of me. But putting the edge pieces together first gives me a framework with which to build the rest of the puzzle.

I see my first drafts as the same kind of thing. It’s a framework that I can build upon, and it’s absolutely necessary for it to be solid before I start adding new pieces. Otherwise, it will come crashing down. For me, it’s not fun at all. But I get through it by telling myself that, once it’s done, I get to add in the fun stuff like characterization, subplots, snappy dialog, etc. Sometimes, I even end up using those ridiculously stupid pieces I mentioned above (slightly modified, in most cases). :)

Then, I get to watch the image of my story blossom in front of me, often surprising me. But I wouldn’t have that without the solid framework of the first draft.

HUGE thank you to Jenn, Sherrie, and PJ for sharing so much with us!


Marcia said...

I don't like first drafts either. The thing is, I can't seem to find the big picture until I've stumbled through the first draft. I tend to begin well, so about halfway through the draft I start using Word's comment feature to make notes to myself in the margins about what will happen next or later and what needs to be planted/changed earlier. I don't outline much before this point because it saps my energy to write the book. I just finished a draft and am now into revisions and LOVING it.

Danyelle L. said...

I like the way you compare it to parts of a puzzle. :)

I love first drafts. That's when most of the discoveries are made, and they tend to come out fairly clean. Mostly, I think, because a part of my brain is whirring and thinking and plotting in the background. All the time. :)

Unknown said...

I absolutely build the outline of a puzzle first! That is a fantastic metaphor, and one I think I will apply to first drafts going forward. I'm new to outlining before writing, but so far it has been working a heck of a lot better than revising as I go!

Anonymous said...

My first draft is like pouring the puzzle pieces out onto the table, and revision is where I put them together.

In some ways, I envy people who can write out an outline or character sketches first--it seems so much more orderly than the way I work. But we are who we are. :-)

Natalie Aguirre said...

I've only had one full first draft that needed tons of revising, so I'm not sure if I like them or not.

I did love your series. It's fascinating to see how all you experienced writers handle the first drafts. Thanks.

PJ Hoover said...

A huge thank you for hosting me. I love reading about everyone's process.

Tabitha said...

I'm so glad everyone liked this series. I had a really good time putting it together, and it was great working with Jenn, Sherrie, and PJ. I think I will need to do more series-like posts in the future!