Friday, March 2, 2012

In Praise of the Ugly First Draft

Tip of the Day: Treat writing as a business, but don't forget to have fun with it too.

Coming Summer 2012
As you read this, my five-year-old son is in the hospital getting his tonsils removed. The date has been looming over me for weeks now. He'll be off of school for a week while he recovers, probably spending the bulk of his time snuggling with me or playing video games. Our ancient PS2 and old-timer Wii reside in the basement - my iMac is in our second-floor loft. Needless to say, I won't get any quality writing time in while he's home. Even when he's playing video games, I'll want to be close by. I'm definitely a helicopter mom when it comes to my kids' health.

I've been working very hard since January to write the first draft of Afterlife. As his surgery date got closer and closer, my panic over finishing this draft grew and grew and grew. I had it in my mind that I could easily print out the draft, edit by hand, and still get plenty of work done while he recovered.

In the last two weeks, I've written over 25,000 words. I'm close to finishing, but not totally done. I know, you're thinking that's a lot of words in a short amount of time. Totally true - but that doesn't mean they're great words.

My ratty, yellowed copy of Bird by Bird
My writing life changed in 2000 when I saw Anne Lamott speak at a writing conference. She introduced me to the concept of the Sh!++y First Draft.

The concept? Get the words out. They don't have to be pretty, but without that first draft there's nothing to edit.

"The first draft is the 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. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page." -Anne Lamott

Finally, I was free to write. Instead of agonizing over word choice, I give myself fully to the story during the first draft. Not only do I enjoy writing more, but I feel like I'm able to let the muse speak rather than forcing my characters into situations just for the sake of following an outline. Now I consider my first draft a really long, ugly summary. A severe round of editing comes next.

Instead of fretting over taking an entire week off of work, I'll be cuddling on the couch with my little man. He'll have his game remote in his hands; I'll have my first rough draft, a highlighter, a pen, note cards, sticky notes, Sleepers (for cross-referencing), and a thesaurus in my hands. It's a good thing I have eight arms. ;)

So, thank you, Anne Lamott. You spoke so lovingly about your son all those years ago. I was an unmarried girl, unsure of my future, but absorbing every beautiful nugget I could glean from you. Who knew that one day your advice would enable me to write while being the best mom I can be to my son? <3

Megg, Miss Enchanted ePubber


Kristina Springer said...

Great post and I hope Luke is getting through surgery just fine and heals fast! And wow, 25,000 words in 2 weeks is awesome!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I'm a big fan of BIRD BY BIRD also!

Hope the recovery is quick and relatively painless!

Kate Fall said...

I'm so glad you can be home with your son and hope surgery goes well. I'm not very good myself at turning off my internal editor, so my first drafts are slow. Several times a week, I have to take a deep breath and say, "It's a first draft already! Just get it down!"

Bonnee Crawford said...

This is the second blog entry I've read about the first draft and just getting it out on paper today! Is there something going on in the writing community that I don't know about?? Thanks for posting this, a great way of thinking about writing and I totally agree with it.

amuse me said...

Hope your son is doing well. I totally agree about just downloading the first draft. I've had a great time doing NaNoWriMo a couple of times and love the storyline I finished, doing 50,000 in 30 days. It was a lot of fun too.

DeenaML said...

It's awesome that the deadline for Sleepers #2 is your own. Can't wait to read it!

Megg Jensen said...

Hey ladies,

Sorry it took me so long to respond to everyone. Been a little preoccupied with my recovering little guy. :D

Thanks, Tina, he's doing great!!!!

Jennifer - it's the best writing book ever, right?

Kate - I used to be like that never finished a book until after I heard Anne speak. I was too paralyzed. What I love most about writing is that it's not HOW you get there, just as long as you DO. :D

Bonnee - haha, nope, no crappy first draft meme that I know about. ;)

AmuseMe - I've won NaNo before too. Such a great kick in the pants!!!

Deena - it's great, but I'm accountable to no one but myself, so sometimes it's too easy to fudge deadlines. ;)