This is the philosophy of Jae: rough drafts are easy, or rather they should be.
Ernest Hemingway once said:
The first draft of everything is bantha poodoo.
Which inspired George Lucas to write Jabba the Hutt calling Han Solo bantha poodoo for his poor smuggling, when we all know the real bantha poodoo was the first draft of worst Star Wars movie ever, also better known as Episode I: The Phantom Poodoo. But I digress…
The point is when you are writing your first draft, enjoy it! Write for the pure love and creation of it. As George Bernard Shaw said, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” If you’re afraid of making bantha poodoo on your first draft, you’re likely to get little accomplished, and probably even less likely to enjoy it.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Take it from Stephen King, someone I’m sure we all wish we could have even 1/4 of his success of in our careers.
Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft. You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. … When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off. (Read the full quote in its entirety here.)
It’s good to do plotting, planning, world and character building, and outlining—but at some point you need to leap into the chasm of story unknown and bring the messy, tangled web of story back out with you. It won’t be perfect on the first draft, period. So quit worrying about getting everything perfectly set before you start, and get that first draft out.
My current novel Shade has gone through many, many drafts. I’m fairly certain it’s hit the ten mark. At about eight or so I realized it needed a major revamp, which was like completely starting over. It took me several weeks to be okay with doing that to my novel, but it’s a stronger story now than the first draft, but I still needed that first draft as my foundation to get anywhere. In fact, I cringe a little when I read over my first draft, but at the same time I’m very pleased with progress I’ve made.
As Stephen says, when you sit down to write, write. Enjoy it. Love it! Be addicted to it. Believe this will be the best story in the world. Push your imagination to the very limits and create a fantastic world for your readers to come and enjoy. Save stress and perfection for later drafts and for now just let creativity freely flow.
Sometimes when I’m writing my first draft, I don’t even properly chapter the thing. I just write and leave spaces between events, occasionally marking spots where I think a new chapter might work nicely.
You can even think of a first draft as a brainstorming session, where no ideas are wrong until you switch to editing mode.
Let me illustrate this another way (literally and figuratively I suppose). When I was in college, learning Spanish, there was this girl in our class who seemed to speak Spanish way better than all the rest of us. She would make conversation with everyone and anyone who spoke Spanish. I asked her how she learned so quickly, and she laughed in an embarrassed sort of way and said, “I don’t really speak it that well, at least, I think my grammar sucks and I’m probably using the wrong verb tenses. But I realized the more I speak, despite all the mistakes I’m making, the easier it becomes to speak and eventually the mistakes go away.”
Most of us were afraid to speak to anyone because we were afraid of making mistakes and looking foolish. In the end, our skill grew very slowly because we were more afraid of making mistakes rather than learning from our mistakes. The girl whose confidence we envied came because she made hundreds of mistakes without fear, learned from those mistakes, and gained not only confidence in her ability but the knowledge that came with practice.
Write that first draft confidently, knowing that you’ll probably make mistakes, but that with time and practice you’ll shape the bantha poodoo that it is into something well more valuable than even Han Solo could imagine. (And certainly a far better story than the Phantom Poodoo.)
Ready, set, first draft!
Okay my writer lovelies. What experiences in writing first drafts would you share with the rest of us? How do you view first drafts? How many drafts are you on with your current WIP (work in progress)?
Tomorrow, sadly, we’ve come to the end of the series. I’ll share final thoughts and final direction on how to write a novel. Hasta mañana!
p.s. After you have that first draft out, please polish it up. Otherwise you’ll have scores of fans still pissed off about a crappy job you did 13 years after the fact. Seriously, George, would it have killed you to go over the script just a few more times?