Now that I come to the end of my first draft I have let it rest for a week or so. After blasting out 40,000 words, I felt like I needed a break from the manuscript so that I could come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes before I do the first self edit.
But to be honest, I think the break away from the manuscript was also to do with fear.
Fear that my words would be rubbish, that they would have lost their sparkle when they first poured out onto the page. Words that I thought were initially magnificent would now appear shallow and rubbish.
In fact I feel terrified to go through this manuscript because I know that it is probably in a bit of a mess.
But I also know that this is what first drafts are meant to look like. We cannot create the perfect manuscript on the first attempt. So how do we get over this fear?
Writing is an Apprenticeship
Just as with anything else we do for the first time, we are always learning and making mistakes in the beginning. It is only through growth that we can actually move to the next level.
Growth goes hand in hand with making mistakes and learning from them. Mistakes are our mechanism to learn from and get better in the writing craft or any other creative pursuit we follow. Growth and mistakes are the two sides of the same coin.
Before I start tackling my manuscript to perform the first edit (the task for this week at least), I find it quite comforting to read this text from Annie Lamont in her book Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life. In this book Lamott has a chapter on writing shitty first drafts. She says:
All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting the books published, and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at the desk every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed pages as fast as a court reporter.
But this is just a fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts….For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact the only way I can get anything written at all is write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is a child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later….If the kid wants to get into really sentimental,weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there maybe something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.
So if you are still writing that first draft remember:
- Have fun with the first draft! This is your chance to play and let all your ideas come out onto the page uncensored.
- Let you imagination go wild. This is the stage where your creativity must not be constrained. You must let it run havoc.
- Remember its just the first draft. The goal is to get the words out, not craft award-winning sentences.
And if you have already completed the first draft then:
- Well done! This is a huge achievement in itself. You deserve a pat on the back. Go on, do it now!
- After your mini celebration, this is the time to start the first self edit. Approach it with an open mind and be kind to yourself.
- Remember, this is only the first edit and you will have more time to review the manuscript as time goes by. Don’t edit whilst you criticise yourself, rather approach the editing phase as an opportunity to refine and improve what you have already created.