FINISHING THE first draft of anything is a great feeling. Finishing the first draft of a novel feels like you've just climbed a mountain -- and survived to tell the tale. It's the best feeling ever.
But how exactly do you get there?
Well, one way to get through that massive task is to banish your inner editor and just get it down. In other words, give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft.
Okay, you probably saw that one coming. But stick with me and I'll show you why this works like a charm.
You can't edit a blank page -- The blank page, so white and intimidating. We've all been there. You stare at the screen for a bit, then type the first line. After reading it back, you delete it and replace it. Maybe then you get three more lines out, before deleting the first two...
Who can write this way? Perfectionism is crippling your story.
One way to combat this is to accept that you're going to make mistakes. Yes, a lot of what you write is probably going to suck. Yes, your descriptions may be lacking and that character you thought you'd love slightly overbearing. But guess what? The first draft of anything sucks.
Not convinced? How about a second opinion.
"I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shovelling sand into a box, so that later I can build castles. -- Shannon Hale"
How about now? That makes sense, doesn't it? In other words, you can't build a sandcastle as you go. You can try -- first I'll build a tower and the windows, then the door, then the second tower... -- but it doesn't work. Your 'castle' needs to be able to support itself and in order to do that, it needs a strong foundation.
Did I lose you with the sandcastle analogies? To summarise, your novel needs a strong foundation before you can shape it and make it pretty. First drafts can be turned into sand fortresses, blank pages cannot.
You can discover what does and doesn't work -- The mind is an amazing tool. If you've read the likes of Stephen King and George Martin, you'll know exactly what it's capable of. You become truly absorbed in the stories they weave, even grow to deeply care about the characters these stories revolve around.
But how did all that come from one single mind? (And why are you comparing me to these giants?)
The truth is, even the best writers need to put their novels through a second draft. In fact, it is more common for an accomplished writer to go through at least three redrafts of their manuscript before they can think about calling a novel finished. It's also not uncommon for a writer's draft count to reach double figures.
Think about the last book that really sucked you in. These amazing words didn't arrive on the page fully formed, perfectly phrased and ready for their readers' hungry eyes. The went through a creative process of trial and error, discovery and elimination.
Take Stephen King, for example. He's surely written enough books to fill his own bookstore at this point (now there's an idea...) His process still involves a standard of three drafts before he'll consider a manuscript finished.
You won't know if your ideas will fly until you throw them off that cliff. (Or... So to speak. Okay, no more analogies. I promise!)
Your unrestricted mind is a weird and wonderful place -- When writing the first draft of a novel, we tend to have high expectations. I know I did. When I first started writing Crimson Touch, I had this awful habit of polishing as went. I was so focused on producing a quality first draft that I was restricting my novel's natural growth, without even realising it.
An idea is a wonderful, fragile thing. One moment it's there and then, if you're not quick enough, it's gone (possibly forever.) If you're filtering what kind of ideas you get at this early stage, then your novel will fail to evolve unaided.
What I mean is that when you allow your mind to be open and impartial, at some point, you'll find that your characters will begin to breathe by themselves. They'll pull you in all sorts of unexpected directions. Your sidekick may show you his true colours and out-villain the guy you actually had planned for the role. Your plot will take interesting turns that you hadn't planned for. Your landscapes will come alive.
Your creation becomes real.
Don't get me wrong -- not every plot twist will be right for your story. Some characters will mislead you, and some will fail to live upto their full potential. Your sidekick's wannabe-villain ego may be bigger than his intended role, in which case, chop him down to size in the next draft.
But the first draft of your story is a process of discovery. And your unrestricted mind is a weird and wonderful place.
Author of short fiction and journals for writers.