I would like to welcome Jo Eberhardt of The Happy Logophile as a guest blogger today. Jo is a talented writer who blogs about writing, reading, and family. She shares stories she’s written and inspires other writers to do the best they can with their works.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce Jo Eberhardt as she discusses five good reasons to write a first draft badly. Welcome, Jo!
When it comes to writing a first draft, everyone (including me) will tell you that the best way to do it is to sit down and write. Whether you’re a plotter with a 17-page outline or a pantser with a great idea and a bee in your bonnet, the advice is the same. Sit down and write.
Don’t edit. Don’t research. Don’t check your spelling or grammar. Don’t agonise over word usage. Don’t avoid adverbs, excessive adjectives, filter words, passive voice, exclamation marks, or any of the other signs-of-bad-writing you’ve heard about. Just write.
This advice isn’t new (or original). We’ve all heard it before. So why do we spend so much time doing the things we know we shouldn’t?
Maybe it’s because we secretly wonder the same thing that a non-writer friend of mine asked: “Why would you bother spending so much time on it if you’re just going to write it badly?”
The First Draft: Five Good Reasons to Write it Badly
1. Because everyone does it.
Remember when you were a kid, and your mother asked, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?” If you were like me, you said ‘Yes’ just to be contrary. But the lesson was still learned – just because other people do it doesn’t make it right, right? Uh… Not necessarily. In this case, let’s amend the questions to, “If there was a raging fire behind you, and everyone else jumped off a cliff into the safety of the water, would you follow them?”
The fact is that all authors edit, rewrite, tweak, and improve their novel after the first draft. Some start out knowing that they will write 17 drafts of their work. Others plan on three. But I’ve never heard of an author who writes a perfect first draft. If it’s good enough for Stephen King, isn’t it good enough for you?
2. Because it’s exciting.
When you let your imagination spill out on to the page day after day, it’s a great feeling. Your word count jumps by 100, 1000, or maybe even 10,000 words, and you’re excited. So your story must be exciting, right? (Don’t think about it. Just say yes.)
Writing your first draft should feel like being in a hot, new club. At first you’re nervous: What if I don’t fit in? What if my dancing sucks? Then you have a couple of drinks, and you start to feel more comfortable. Everything feels easier. The band is playing your favourite songs, the people are attractive, and your dance moves are crazy-good. You have a few more drinks, jump on to a podium and start stripping off your clothes. The crowd goes wild. Everyone wants you. You are Legend. Sure, in the morning you’ll wake up to find you’ve slept with a cross between the abominable snowman and a tube of toothpaste, but that is then and this is now. Enjoy it while it lasts.
3. Because it gets you to the sweet spot.
Sometimes things are awkward at the beginning. You’re not sure whether things will fit properly; you’re not sure how long it’s going to last, or how good it will be. Maybe you don’t even know everyone’s name. But once you’ve got your rhythm going, none of that matters. You don’t care if your adverbs are showing, or whether it’s better for your voice to be active or passive. You’re in the moment, and you know how much you’ll enjoy the sweet, sweet climax at the end, and the pillow talk afterwards.
Do you know what happens if you stop to critique your performance halfway through? You get so focused on whether you’re doing it right, that soon you’re left with a story that’s as limp and lifeless as a…. well, use your imagination.
4. Because it’s all about the vibe.
When I’m writing highly emotional scenes, I like to use music to help me get into the mood. I turn up the volume, immerse myself in the sound, and write, write, write. Those are the times I end up crying, tears running down my face, as words of regret, pain, heartache, guilt, or grief clatter on to the page.
Don’t doubt that these feelings will make it into your final draft, although you may have to edit out pages of purple prose first. It’s so important to feel the story as well as to imagine it, and raw, exposed emotions rock.
5. Because engravings are hard to change.
Sometimes our stories surprise us. You start writing with the expectation that Bob and Jane will fall in love, only to realise halfway through the novel that Bob is as camp as a row of tents. If you’re not writing romance, that may not have a huge impact on your plot. But it will definitely have an impact of the earlier scenes you wrote where Bob was espousing the virtues of titty bars.
The fact is that if you’ve been editing as you go, it’s easy to feel that your earlier chapters are done. Finito. Perfect. You’ve marked out the lines, grabbed a chisel, and engraved those babies into stone. So you’re, understandably, more reluctant to make changes. Don’t make it harder on yourself than you have to – leave the editing until the end.