Writing 101: First Draft, Version 2.0

Recently, after many nights of struggle, I managed to finish the final chapter of the first draft of my next novel. But I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I finished the first draft, because I haven’t. For this particular book, I found there was really only one way I could write it and manage to get anything accomplished: sloppily. So I say to all you authors with ugly first drafts, welcome. We are as one.

Building a Book

Did you ever build a model of something for school? I was once tasked with creating a sculpture out of trash, an assignment that lots of people get that I personally think is in poor form. But my grades in Science were always questionable, so I made the sculpture. It was a telephone, because I’m a girl. I started by gluing the popsicle sticks together to create a flat base first. Later, I put together my bubble gum wrapper chain and cut a foam cup to make an ear and mouthpiece. I didn’t add the spray paint until it was all assembled, and it wasn’t until that moment that it looked like something worth looking at. And yes, this bizarre anecdote has a point. A good one.

I couldn’t add the paint until that flat base was built. And that’s the point. My first draft is truly a horrible thing. I went back to look at a chapter, and for almost two paragraphs I was certain I had started typing in a foreign language; there were that many mistakes. A universal translator will be needed to decipher chapter 11, there’s no question about that. But don’t you worry about that. Because before I present this ugly Frankensteinian monster of a book to the public, I’m going to cover it with black spray paint -- just like I did with the popsicle sticks and bubble gum wrappers.

You’ve got to build a foundation first. So I wrote out the necessary scenes that my book had to have in order to tell the story. They’re ugly scenes. They use a bare minimum of words. Right now, those scenes are really just glued-together sticks. I haven’t even put them into a shape yet. But I will. Pretty soon, I’ll glue the wrappers into place and add the numbers I made out of a cut-up sponge. Right after I add all the extra scenes that I skipped over writing so I could hit all my main plot points. Then I’ll decrypt all that messy nonsense I wrote, so that human beings know how to understand it. And eventually, I’ll add the spray paint.

Building a book doesn't have to be neat and it doesn’t have to follow a specific pattern. You can get to the end of the chapter and still have a first draft that really doesn’t qualify for that noble title. I don’t have a first draft just yet, but I’ve got a nice, firm base of popsicle sticks. That’s just how this book needed to be built. Now, start building yours in any way that feels right to you.

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