First Drafting Is Like This

Source: The great Tumblog, Title to Come

This is how I explain first drafting to people: a writer is like a sculptor, except rather than going down to the marble quarry (or, like, buying some marble off Amazon or however sculptors get marble now), you have to create the marble yourself. From your brain. You don't even get to start molding or chipping away until you push the words out of your head. And, ugh, it sucks. Alright, it can be fun under one condition: if you have that buzzing excitement that comes with a new story. But if, like my current book, the ideas and characters have been around for awhile (because they've been shoved aside repeatedly by a pushy girl named Minnow), first drafting feels a little like trying to squeeze water from a dry sponge (or pushing a block of marble from your head).

When I wrote the first draft of MINNOW, I made writing the first draft a kind of game. The rules were simple:
1) Be a word-producing robot
2) Meet your weekly word count goal
3) Have fun writing the ugliest words you can think of

I literally told myself that my goal was to write ugly. It took some of the pressure off. It was the only way I could handle the transition from writing poetry to fiction. When I started writing MINNOW, I would write a sentence, then dissect it and rip it apart until it was perfect. That's how I'd write poems, revising as I went. This was one of the most difficult aspects of transitioning from poetry to fiction. I remember being paralyzed by indecision in that first month or so. I'd stare at the computer screen completely lost because I realized that, even with pretty sentences, I still had no clue what the book was about. And what about flashbacks? And character development? And voice? It was overwhelming. Eventually I decided I had to put my word-perfectionism on hold during the drafting phase. It's just not feasible--there are just too many words to be concerned with. 

It seems it's time to take my own advice again. In the life of MINNOW, drafting composed a relatively short period of time. I spent probably three months on that first draft, and the next two years rewriting and revising (I'd wager maybe a hundred words remain from the first draft). I'm realizing that I haven't done full-on first drafting for a long time. Because of that, my perception of my own writing has gotten a little skewed. I've spent so much time in the tinkering, making-words-pretty phase with MINNOW, I'd forgotten that I could write ugly [cue sardonic laughter]. It seems that, yes, I can still write ugly. I drove home after a recent writing session in a state of shock and disgust, chanting to myself, "Everything sucks. Everything sucks." No, Stephanie, everything doesn't suck. It's just a first draft. You're just making marble.