On First Drafts



Now I’m not 100% this delightful quote is from Prachett, but its clever and sage so even if it isn’t it fits well (it is after all the post-truth era right right???)

What I like so much about it is how it captures many aspects of embarking on writing a story so well. I realize that there are probably as many creative methods out there as there are individual souls, but I suspect we mostly have a common process, in the sense that a story brews in our minds, and writing is our attempt to put words to that story.

This advice also gels well with Adam Sternbergh’s advice to write the novel you want to read not he one you want to write. You see typically when we first put pen to paper we’re high on our own imagination, and whatever your methods or opinion of your own work, its hard to detach from the feelings we get when we write. But therein lies the rub, how you feel writing, or rather telling yourself the story is likely to be far from the experience of a reader picking up your words and reading for themselves. Now I’m not saying your perfect baby of a novel is crap, I’m just saying that the goal of fiction is not to put words to our imaginations, but rather to present words that spark other’s imaginations.

I think for me this is the biggest lesson/insight I’ve gained through struggling to learn to do fiction better, and I’m not trying to toot my own horn here; what I’m saying is the realization that good writing is about its effect (and affect) on the reader, has helped me immensely in term of working out how to improve my work, especially in edits and rewrites once I’ve told myself the story. It also helps to get away from a piece of advice which I do think is brainy and smart to share, to worry less about whether your writing is good and concentrate on whether your writing imparts to the reader what you want it to. (I guess if you want the reader to think you’re a clever writer that undermines my advice, but it almost every arena trying to seem smart tends to backfire as people wonder why you’re trying so hard)

What are other writers/readers thoughts on first drafts? Are you fans of vomit drafting, or you like to plan carefully, or are you a rare specimen that can weave gold from nothing…

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