PJ Sharon here, although technically, I’m on the road again. I’m headed to Maine for a few days for some R&R and some dedicated writing time—sans internet distractions. Not that I should need to leave the state for that, but I’ve been having some difficulty focusing on the completion of my current WIP. I thought maybe a change of scenery would do me good. I have to say this is my toughest first draft ever! Partly because it’s the first series I’ve done and because I’ve never written a dystopian story before. But mostly, I’m having trouble allowing my first draft to suck.
I once referred to myself as a first draft addict. When I began novel writing about seven years ago, I started with the grain of an idea. Then the characters came to me, I briefly wrote a few character sketches, and then I dove into the writing like a dolphin after a school of minnows. The words leapt onto the page and the story unfolded naturally. The writing was awful, but the sheer joy of telling the story carried me from beginning to end without any consideration for plotting, pithy dialogue, or lame word choices. But once I finished that book and was told by a kind but ruthless retired high school English teacher friend of mine that I “needed to learn the craft of writing,” I moved on to the next story in my head. Revising a 100,000 word manuscript seemed daunting, and I was all about telling my stories…not tearing them apart and dealing with the minutia of making them shine.
I jumped into the next story, wrote that first draft in a matter of months, and by that time had found RWA and some critique partners who told me again that I “had much to learn.” Issues like POV, showing vs. telling, balancing dialogue with narrative, and the dreaded “navel gazing” that I’m still quite fond of, were all problems to be tackled if I wanted to revise and make that story work. It was a story called THE AMULET, and I would love to go back and resurrect it, which I’m sure would require almost a complete re-write. You see, I had no idea how to revise those early manuscripts, so instead, I just moved on to the next crazy set of characters that wouldn’t shut up in my head. It was a learning process that I needed to endure before I finally had enough “craft” skill under my belt to know how to construct a story. Over time, working with critique partners, taking workshops and working with my English teacher friend, the revision process became clearer.
Now, after revising and publishing three young adult novels, I’ve gotten pretty good at the revision and editing process. The bad news is that now it’s tough to turn that part of my brain off. It’s difficult to simply write my story without tearing it apart as I go. My process these days is that I try to complete a chapter each time I sit down to write. I don’t write every day, either because of time constraints or the simple fact that I need time to research or work out and process my story. But when I do sit down and jump back into it, I first have to re-read my previous chapter and do some revisions before I can move on. That one step back and two steps forward has slowed my process down considerably. I’m hoping it saves me on the other end and that revisions will be less daunting, but I’m finding it challenging to ignore my internal editor who reminds me about deadlines, clichés, missed opportunities to “show”, and extraneous words cluttering the page. It kind of takes the fun out of telling the story.
I have to say, it was helpful to hear from both Kristan Higgins and Sherry Thomas that it is normal for a first draft to suck and that you just have to allow yourself that as you write. With each story, I learn something new about myself and this crazy process of being a writer. I have to wonder if it ever gets easier, or if anything worthy of being called art can be manifest without the birthing pains that come with the process of creation.
How do you handle your internal editor? Is it possible to stuff her in a closet until the end of the first draft? If so, I’d love some tips on how to wrestle her into submission. (I know it’s a “her’ because a man couldn’t possibly be that big of a nag…no offense ladies.)
Today’s unlocked secret:
Turn off your internal editor and give yourself permission to let your first draft suck!