The first draft of anything is shit. –Ernest Hemingway
I was chatting with some of my writer friends today, and one of them was lamenting how the first draft of her new WIP seems to be stalling out. Mind you, this writer friend is a revision queen who’s worked for years on a novel that’s now set to be published in Fall 2017. She is more than capable of writing and revising another awesome novel. Her first draft already shows glimmers of wonderful things.
But I totally get where she’s coming from. I felt similarly this July when I faced CampNaNoWriMo once more. The previous year, I birthed Breaking Orbit. In the year since, Breaking Orbit has grown and changed from a really shitty rough draft to something that feels close to a real novel. It’s exciting. And since then I’ve made my way through three drafts of another WIP, Teagan & Jake. Yet still, drafting another novel, especially in a month’s time seemed impossible and beyond arduous.
I grew up with a dog, and have always been a dog person. Recently, I’ve done some dog sitting. In some ways, it feels like test driving breeds and behaviors to see what type of dog would best suit me. It’s also reminded me that dogs are not fun to care for all of the time (poop, vomit, incessant barking, tugging on the leash). An even more important reminder is that there is a big difference between a grown, well-behaved dog and a cute, clueless puppy.
Puppies are like first drafts. They’re cute, entertaining, and everything is exciting and new to them. But they also pee, poop, and chew with no remorse. Their personalities are still forming, so you’re not quite sure what they’ll be like in a year or so. The most you can do is nurture the behaviors you want and teach them how to live peacefully and happily with other pets and people.
Much like a puppy, your first draft cannot lose your love and attention no matter how much pain and stress is causes you because it never ceases to entertain you. Like a puppy’s disproportionate looks, tendency to tumble and skitter across floors, and be generally cute, your first draft is full of characters and plot points you love to tinker with.
But oh, that first draft can misbehave. Plot holes, inconsistent characters, tangents, too much backstory, and so many other turds, pee stains, and teeth marks scatter your draft. Sometimes it squats right in front of you. It’s infuriating. Will your draft ever learn? Is it even capable of growing up to a dog you want in your house? Is all this effort worth it?
Those well behaved adult dogs are such a delight to be around. They’re a companion like no other, retrieving and understanding parts of you that you didn’t even know existed. Their quirks and personality are so much fun too. You have a pattern with them. They aren’t scared of the vacuum cleaner. They come when you call them. They can find joy in life without your constant encouragement or supervision. They know not to jump on the furniture and to go to the bathroom outside. They anticipate your moves, recognize your habits, and love you even at your worst.
You love your novel. You really do. You wouldn’t have put the time and energy into it already if you didn’t. And you’re not going to give up on it. Because with the right amount of revising, it’s going to become the novel you’ve been trying to create for so long.
Those flat characters are aching to become more well rounded. Your plot’s willing to change and grow as needed. Those ideas and themes are sure to flourish with your attention and guidance. Just keep at it. And try to laugh off your first draft’s mistakes; it’s learning along with you.