Writing the first draft

13 02 2009

Meeting up with other writers is always great. It gets you motivated. Gets you out of the house. And makes you realise that you’re not the only one having troubles with a particular part of the process. 

Yesterday at coffee I heard a great description for writing the first draft. My writer friend likened it to being constipated… for a year. She also did a visual impression of herself on the dunny, squeezing out the dreaded first draft, screaming ‘just get out!’ – but we won’t get into that. 

The thing was, I could relate to that image so well, while others in the group thought she was being a little dramatic. 

Like my constipated friend, I too find rewriting a breeze. I love it. Looking at the structure, remolding, remaking, getting the flow just right. Of course, the non-constipated first drafters thought rewriting was hell. 

For those of us who find the first draft process an ordeal, my message is this: eat a packet of prunes and get the damn thing out. Yes, it’s awful and horrible but it has to get out! (You can drop the imagery now, we’re onto the serious stuff.) Write the horrible, awful sentences that get you through to the end and the thing you like best, rewriting.

It took me 18 months to get my first draft written. At times I was paralysed for weeks on end. Every time I went to my desk I would see the page with the last two sentences I’d written, ‘Finn let me stare for a while without saying anything. Then his hand slowly closed around my arm.’. See, I still remember them! It wasn’t until I stopped judging those two sentences, and fearing how many other bad ones I could produce, that I actually got moving again.

The task ahead of me seemed enormous, but one day I just got sick of doing nothing. I pictured the scene in my head, wrote a few sentences about it (not caring what they were like) and then I went to bed. The next morning, there was a different sentence waiting for me. And as luck would have it, I’d gone over to a new page. Those two awful sentences, the ones that had had completely controlled me for so long, had vanished. I’d broken their hold on me by writing through them. And you know what, the next sentences were no better or worse. The only difference was that I kept on writing, even if it was a single sentence for the day, so that no one sentence could have that power over me again.

Within three weeks I’d finished my draft. And that included days when I wrote only one sentence. 

So for those of you having trouble finishing the first draft, this is the best advice I can give. Wherever you’re stuck, stop, picture the scene in your head, and write about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a sentence. It doesn’t matter if it’s crap. Break the hold of whatever it is that’s stopping you, even if it’s one sentence at a time. Because once you do, you have something to work with. 





5 responses

13 02 2009

I need a little plaque over my desk that reads


13 02 2009

You’ve inspired me, Sash! And after five years of constipation, I’m going to take your advice and let it rip. Ouch!
Elle 🙂

18 02 2009

Hemingway said that all first drafts are shit. I rest my case.

18 02 2009
Sandra Makaresz

Well if it’s good enough for Hemingway…

18 02 2009

And now we’ve brought him up, my favourite Hemingway quote is ‘easy reading is damned hard writing’.

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