First drafts are messy. There’s no way around that. They’re infuriatingly messy. You can’t THINK too much when you’re in front of the computer screen or you will freeze up but you do think about the manuscript at other times. Compulsively, you wonder about this detail or choice or character. Especially the choices—these you wonder about a lot. You get lost. Your story zigs. It zags. It leads you through a wood so thick you have to hack your way out.
You will think, of course, but when you sit back in front of your computer to write, you have to silence all these voices and find that place where you can be in the story. John Gardner says you need to create a “continuous dream” for the reader and Robert Olen Butler says you need to enter a kind of dream to create the continuous dream. I think of it as an altered state. Now, of course, I don’t mean you won’t be thinking about your writing when you’re taking a shower, walking the dog, standing in line for lunch, not listening to your mother (oops, sorry mom), but when you’re writing—especially during this messy first draft--you have to let go and allow yourself to find your way. Your story, what happens, how characters act and react, will suggest certain ways ahead that you’ll intuitively pick up on if you’re THERE in the story. If you get stuck, think about the basics: what do your characters want, what’s in their way, what does the story want? A first draft needs to be done but it doesn’t need to be good or close to RIGHT. As I mentioned in the last post, for some it’s hardly more than an outline, a blueprint, of what’s to come. But almost without exception, it’s a rough sketch of a story. There’s a kind of freedom and comfort in accepting that—for me anyway.