First Drafts

The other day, my daughter’s teacher told me she was concerned my daughter may be a little bit of a perfectionist. I laughed and said the apple fell an inch from the tree. I am a perfectionist. I know this. I wrote the first sentence of this post seventeen times. Okay, not really. It was sixteen.

When it comes to writing, I typically plan first (plot cards, cork boards, outlines, character sheets…the whole nine yards) and then I write each chapter until it’s perfect. This means it takes a long time to get a first draft, but it also means there isn’t a lot of revising to do at the end. Who am I kidding? As a perfectionist, revision doesn’t end until…well, never.

Then I read James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure. He suggests several methods for whipping through a first draft. While they all sound like great ideas, I thought they weren’t for me. After all, I had tried this in the past. I wrote each chapter in expostion only, with the thought that I would go back and add the structure and dialogue later. What I got was something like this:

Mary goes to school. It’s raining and she forgot her umbrella so she’s wet. She meets Mark. He asks her why she is wet. She explains. He offers to drive her home after school. She accepts. When they get to her house, she asks him in for coffee. She thinks she may have finally met Mr. Right. He declines because he needs to get home to his wife.

 I’m yawning already. Why? I’m a dialoguer (apparently, I’m also a make-up-your-own-word-er). I love writing dialogue. It’s the detail and exposition that takes the most effort for me. So writing a whole book without any dialogue is absolutely painful. Realizing this, I decided to turn around JSB’s idea and write a first draft of my latest WIP using dialogue only. What happened? Not only do I love it, I’ve been writing 4000+ words a day.

So what’s the lesson here? Always remember your umbrella. No really. Find the style of writing you love and use that for your first draft. Maybe you’ll be like me and end up with an entire book of dialogue. Maybe you’ll end up with an entire book of exposition. Maybe you’ll end up with an entire book of inner monologue. It doesn’t matter. You’ll still end up with a first draft and that, my friend, is the first step to creating a finished manuscript.

Category: On Writing