One of my biggest misconceptions about writing a novel was that I thought “first draft” meant one coherent all-the-way-through-to-the-end draft. I thought that after I sat down and wrote that, everything else was crunchy snacks and tweaking word choices.
And perhaps some people’s first drafts are like that, but my first draft was 44,000 words written during the 2010 National Novel Writing Month . It *was* coherent, in that one event followed each other in a logical fashion. But I was nowhere near the snack-time, word-futzing stage. After my manuscript’s encounter with the conflict box in our McDaniel’s class, the story was better and stronger, but almost all of the words were gone. A few random “the”s and “stalagmites”s survived, but that was it.
The experience shocked me. But it helped me learn what a first draft is and isn’t. A first draft is a place to explore your world, it’s a place to learn more about your characters, and it’s a place to put your characters in situations that may wind up as major plot points (or just dead ends). The important thing is that you see how they react, and you learn more about them.
It’s not a place to spend days on a pretty sentence. It’s not a place to worry too much about the plot coming together. It doesn’t even have to be a logical, linear place. You can write the ending first, and the beginning last, if that’s the way you and the Girls in Your Basement want to do it. And it’s not one, extravagant writing session. It’s part of a process, and you may have to write the same scene five different ways. You may have to write the entire book five different ways, if it’s that kind of book.
I’ve come to think that the first draft is that rush of joy that comes with creation. You are making puzzle pieces. Sometimes you draw blood when you slip, but you are making stuff.
The second part of the process is the joy of putting that puzzle together. You may have to go back and make some more pieces. You may find it extremely frustrating to see that these two pieces don’t belong together after all – or that this piece belongs to a different puzzle. But when two (or four, or even six, hallelujah) pieces come together, it’s extremely satisfying.
Finally, near the end, you get to brush off your puzzle, varnish it so it stays together, and then put it in a frame for everyone to enjoy. (Or maybe I’m naïve – I haven’t got that far with a novel yet.)
“First” in this case doesn’t mean a solid, one-time affair. It’s an imaginary number with a variable range. Don’t get caught up too much in the semantics or numbers or even numerology – just go out and write.