Sunday, November 1, 2015

How do you finish a first draft? Low Expectations

 The trick to writing and finishing a first draft of a novel is simple. Ready? Low expectations. I’m not saying you should adopt this as a philosophy for life, but for a first draft of a novel,  absolutely. A first draft is a pale version of what you will eventually revise your novel into. If you accept that, you can allow yourself, give yourself permission,  to write it, to progress onward through the fog. Yes, the draft will be very much less than you want. Yes it will be so much less than the best you can do.  Yes, yes. But constantly stopping to revise, being disappointed by the awkward language or the less than compelling narrative or the development of character, can wear you down and cause you to give up.  And that means never finishing. LOOK, of course, sometimes you should give up. Sometimes the draft just isn’t working. But many times writers quit simply because they get discouraged by how much less their first draft is than the vague but compelling first vision they had for their story. Don’t let that stop you.        


            One way I think about this is my first draft is like a movie that is out of focus, and with a soundtrack that’s a little off--bits of dialogue going in and out, the wrong songs…you get the idea.  My first draft might have nice moments here and there but overall it’s an embarrassment.  My next drafts are my attempts to bring the story into focus. I do this in a number of ways. I make my description more concrete, more sensory. I tighten info dumps. I give dialogue subtext. I work on the precision and flow of my language. I go through the plot for weak moments. I deepen characters. I try to make motivations clearer and on and on…there are so many things I do. And I get to do this because that’s what REVISION is. And for me writing is revising. I get something on the page and then I work with it and work with it and it gets closer to that vision that  inspired me to want to write the story in the first place.
            But to get to that I have to endure the first draft, parts of which, by the way, are very fun because I discover all kinds of things. That said, it’s never easy—low expectations.