I absolutely hate writing first drafts.
No matter how much practice I seem to get, I grind my teeth and slug through the mud of my own inability to convey the wonderful images in my head. Those blank pages are where I meet my weakness. They are the place where I know that I suck. It’s all wrong, but I need to get something down on paper. Fortunately for me, however, I love rewriting. There’s real joy in editing– in taking something that sucks and making it sing. So I give myself an incredibly short deadline to crank out that first vomit draft so I can get to the good part.
I guess that means I enjoy fixing much more than initializing… which shouldn’t surprise me. I’m a Virgo!
For me, the key to getting through a “vomit draft” is to never rewrite anything while in the middle of that first ugly, rough draft. I never read over what I just wrote. I never go back and change scenes or a character– even if I’ve decided the whole story is going to take a huge hairpin turn that makes everything that came before obsolete. I don’t fix it until I get to the revision stages.
There are lots of reasons for this policy.
- Until I’m really finished, I don’t fully know the story. Revising the beginning to suit a change I make in the middle, may be a wasted effort by the time I reach “the end.” I may have reached an entirely different conclusion by the end– and that first beginning may indeed be more correct than it seems in the midst of the writing process. Or the ending may change that hairpin middle turn so much that it, too goes. So revising too early just makes extra work– and who wants that?
- Completing the world and allowing it to be whatever it is, builds trust both in the world that’s emerging on the page, and in one’s own powers to create it. I find if I start editing myself in the early stages, I can quickly become blocked. So I just let go and keep going and when that critical voice pops up, I literally repeat to myself over and over, “I know I can fix it later” like a mantra.
- Facing down my “suckiness” inspires me to do better. I’ve read about some authors who write perfect novels in one draft and I certainly aspire to be one of them. Facing my current sense of lack is a humbling reminder of how much I still have to learn, and how much better I can be with time and practice.
It’s definitely appropriate that my movie is called The Revisionist. Although the story is about a mother trying to rewrite her choices to save her son’s life, it’s true of me and my writing life as well. I enjoy the process of revising and that’s lucky because of how many revisions there have been (and it’s not even done!). Some of those revisions were spurred by my own desire to make the story better, and others were suggested by producing and creative partners as The Revisionist marches toward the big screen. Those revisions, or industry “notes” as they are often called, are aimed at making the story the best it can be, but can sometimes have other agendas, too.
I’ll share more about getting industry notes, and how I respond to them, in my next blog.