Inside the Fiction Factory – Part 20

First Drafts

As noted the other week, I spent September writing out the first draft of a sequel to The Kill Chain, called The Kill Switch. Since then I’ve sent taken a break and have been working on a new short story which I will submit for a new anthology by the end of this week. I will blog more on this later.

I’m looking forward to tackling draft two of The Kill Switch. There is an often quoted remark by Ernest Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I don’t agree with this and would advise writers that, yes it won’t be perfect, far from it, but there will be good pages in there, great lines and the basis of something you can work with. If you make the milestone of the first draft, that’s an achievement, and you have work to improve on in subsequent drafts. Author Jodi Picoult said that, “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” That’s something I have posted on my desk and it’s some thing I advise all new writers to take on board. Get something down on paper, the bones of the story, and worry about the style and readability in later drafts.

I wouldn’t let anyone read my first draft, but that’s not because I’m ashamed of it or think it’s rubbish. My first draft is not necessarily written in a sensible order; it’s full of comments such as, “finish this part in draft 2,” or “they go here and do this, then come back round to that,” and other such cryptic remarks which would make no sense to a reader, but I know what they mean and how to act on them when writing draft two. The first draft is for me, and the satisfaction of having got to the end of it, is like nothing else. I don’t particularly enjoy writing the first draft; I feel pressure and because I write fast and aim to finish within four to six weeks, I find it a slog. There are always more attractive things to be getting on with when in the middle of a first draft, so the discipline to, “keep on keeping on,” in the words of Bob Dylan, I find hard work. Not that subsequent drafts are a breeze. It still takes effort and hard work and for me I find I need to tackle it within a few weeks. I have read another often quoted piece of writing advice that you should put the first draft away and not look at if for so many months. The number of months vary. That may work for you, and if so that’s fine. Me, I like to start within the month. If I didn’t have the deadline of a new short story to occupy my writing time, I would have started by now. I’m not worried about this, as I’m ready to go this week and excited to do so.

Whatever works for you, is what you should be doing. For me, my first drafts are not great, but they are not shit. I agree I can’t edit a blank page, which is why I just get words down and worry about the structure and style later. I prefer to get on sooner rather than later with the second draft. These are not rules and I would never post them as such. It’s what works for me.

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