Photo by AlicePopkorn
I haven’t even started writing the story yet and already I’m stressing about getting it right.
A scene complete with dialogue started playing on that movie screen in my head, of course in the bath when I have no way to write it down. I thought a cliche, and stopped the story with a screech of brakes to come up with an alternative, something brighter, less everyday. Of course, nothing came but different cliches. Fresh language can’t be forced. No more story after that.
I need to remember what first drafts are for.
They’re for getting the story down. They aren’t the place to spend half an hour worrying about a better way to express a single phrase. They aren’t the place to stop and think about whether my language is too simple or too flowery. They aren’t the place to make it all pretty and neat and tidy and politically correct and unoffensive to anyone, even my mother-in-law. They aren’t the place to take the whole writing session doing a long research session on the physics of time travel or the streetscape in 1800′s Paris or whatever. They aren’t the place to stress about whether the character’s GMC is coming out enough or my scenes and sequels are in the right order or my Break into Two comes at the right word count.
That comes later.
First drafts are for getting to know the characters, getting those story people on the page, moving around, thinking, feeling, talking, doing things. Fleshed out, not cardboard. They’re for finding out what the story is about. They’re for cutting loose and having fun with words, being as wild and outrageous and playful as I want, or as pedestrian and simplistic and cliche riddled as it comes too. Whatever it takes, if that’s what gets the story down on the pages so I have something I can edit later.
Second draft is for the tightening, the fine tuning, the layering in more of what’s needed, the taking out of what’s not, the moulding and shaping.
It is for me, anyway. I know everyone has a different process. I have published friends who edit as they go, whose minds work in a miraculous way that means close to first drafts can be subbed, with minimum rewrites. They don’t plan, either. I’m not jealous at all, oh no, not a bit. I’m always this colour green.
The thing is, I’ve tried that. And I’ve tried extensive prewriting planning. It simply doesn’t work for me. I end up with a slow, stodgy, overcooked porridge story, no life or energy in it.
I do plan, at least try to get to know my characters and what their story arc might be, how they need to grow and change over the course of the story. But I still seem to need a discovery draft. I need to fumble my way in the dark towards what my story is. The real story I want to write always seems to end up being something a long way from what I first thought. I’ve tried doing it differently, but it keeps coming back to the same thing. This is my process. I write my way in. This is what I need to respect, and work with, and play with.
Just like morning pages, no second thoughts. No deleting. Just keep those hands moving on the keys and those words coming. Write as wild and as raw and as real as I can. Yes, I might have a plan, a bit of an idea where I’m going. I don’t want to set off into the pathless forest without any sort of map and compass and concept of direction at all. But I don’t know what I’ll find until I get in there. I need to keep reminding myself to let the story be what it is in first draft. Crazy, chaotic, contradictory, crappy.
Because somewhere in that mess is the story I really want to tell.
Well, I’m pretty sure that’s my writing process. Not the recommended method, especially by story architecture purists, but it’s mine! What’s yours?