THE FIRST DRAFT
- by Suraya Dewing -
Here are some comments about a first draft, courtesy of Suraya Dewing. Hope these points are helpful.
“I have recently read interesting comments about first drafts. I was intrigued by a comment that the writer edited as he or she wrote.
Ernest Hemmingway famously said, ‘the first draft is always shit.’
I’m not sure if the expletive was what made it so memorable but it certainly sums up how one should regard first drafts. Stephen King says he never lets anyone see the first draft of anything he writes. This is saying pretty much what Ernest Hemmingway said. Both are making an important point.
The first draft gets the ideas down while they flood into the mind. They becomes the outline, never the final version. There is no one in this world capable of putting together a story that does all that good stories do in the one draft.
The first draft is experimental. The writer has an idea . . . but that is all it is. The idea needs some flesh in the form of characters, situation and theme and pulling those together during the writing of the first draft is a huge task.
A first draft might tend to wander down what appear to be interesting alleys that have no bearing on the real story at all. Sometimes a little wander leads to a new story and that is fine. If that happens the writer needs to remember to delete the old story. Alternatively, the diversion becomes a subplot. Either way, that kind of sorting-out happens in the second draft.
However, a writer must be hardened to executing the ruthless slash and burn that all drafts require.
A failure to deliver such death warrants can lead to holding on to material that adds nothing to the story. It is often boring. Readers lose patience with this kind of dead wood. Regardless of how well-crafted the piece is, how interesting it is, or how much it appears to be screaming to be spared the guillotine, it has to go if it repeats an idea or adds nothing to the story.
Sometimes I put beloved off-cuts into a file which I look over later. At some point the file gets deleted, but at least while I continue to be in love with the saved piece, I know it is preserved and if I do find some way to use it, I can resurrect it. Quite often a few days is all I need to discover it was not the masterpiece I thought it was and off it goes into the recycling bin.
I regard the first draft like the scaffolding of a building. Some of the scaffolding will stay as an essential part of the story and other parts will be dismantled. What remains becomes the foundation on which all else rests. Although the first draft will, without doubt, prove to be the one which loses much of its original framing, it will also be the one which supports all future drafts.
If the story idea and the first draft have enough integrity then all future drafts will take shape until the story is complete with well-rounded characters, strong story line and satisfying ending.
It is all about the writer believing he or she has a story to tell and then making a pact to tell it as well as possible.
If a writer is serious about producing writing that will withstand the scrutiny of critical readers’ eyes, then he or she can never afford to regard the first draft as the last draft.
I’m not writing much these days, but when I do I follow this process:
I write the first draft then I put it to one side for 24 hours. In that time I think about the story, what I am trying to say, which characters I want to carry the story and so on.
A key question I ask myself is, ‘what is this story about?’
Often what I thought is not it all. In the time between getting the idea, writing the first draft and reading it, I have discovered quite a different story. Letting go of my original idea can be a challenge.
Then I go back to work and re-write the story. This time it is smoother and it makes more sense. Although this is not the final version this is the version I am happy to show others in order to get feedback. That one escapes dismissal as being a complete load of rubbish. Sorry, I can’t quite put it in Hemmingway’s terms.”
Clancy's comment: I have a golden rule about first drafts. Finish them and leave them symbolically on my lounge room floor until I feel, and know, I'm ready to review them. That is usually three months, but whatever the time span, it is a day I know is right to re-visit my work. Distancing yourself from a labour of work can give you a whole new perspective. Oh, and don't be too frightened to slash and burn. If it doesn't add to the story - out!