Monday, October 1, 2012

The "Exploratory" Draft

  I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I love the idea of it. I love reading words written or "having written" as you've probably heard before. I love going down to the art store and buying a sketchbook full of empty blank pages of beautiful paper and filling it with little scene ideas, dialogue snippets, character profiles and histories etc and sometimes I get carried away in that stage until one day it hits me. 

    I cannot sell this book. This is not, in fact, a novel. You're not actually writing.


    Which means Drafting must begin. Which means gallons of ice cream will be consumed. There will be much throwing of oneself onto the bed wailing that "it's just not mean to be!" followed by well-intentioned consuling from one's husband.After a half dozen times he turns on the tough love and you schlep yourself back together to begin again. And again. And again.

 At least that's how it is for me. You're probably an ubber-galactic steller writer who churns out books in mere days. You suck.

Drafting is by far the HARDEST part for me.

The part where I feel most hopeless of ever becoming a writer. The task of taking all of these random bits and turning them into a full-fledged novel is daunting to say the least. What's the method? How does one bridge the gap between pure imagining and the finished work with all the elements? This is where the published writers out work the dreamers. Key word: WORK.

Laini Taylor (author of the Dreamdark series and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, LOVELOVELOVELOVE) describes the first draft as an exploratory one: (I hope it's okay Laini to post your words here instead of mine because they're so much better!):

                Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a jungle in, let’s say, Borneo (because I have a fascination with Borneo). You have a rough idea of how big this jungle is -- you’ve flown over it in a helicopter and seen dense green treecover, and you know what’s on the other side. You know where you want to get to, and you have a very vague idea of what’s IN the jungle, but you have no map, and as of yet there is no trail. What you do have is a machete, a blank roll of paper, and a grease pencil.

                There’s only one way to get to the other side of the jungle: take out your machete and start whacking. Carve your way forward and forward, sometimes sideways and sometimes back, until you get to the other side. That first time through, you’re going to come across ravines, swamps, viper nests, rivers, all sorts of things you didn’t expect and you’ll deal with them and get around them, over them, through them, in all manner of resourceful ways. And when you step out of the jungle on the far side, what you’ll have in your hand is a sprawling, wrinkled, sweat-stained mess of a map of the territory you’ve just discovered. It might not look very pretty, but it is a glorious thing, a document of discovery. You clutch it to you, and after you’ve rested and healed for a while, you go back to the far side of the jungle and. . . you start again. (Source here)

Isn't that awesome? I love all the bush wacking involved and really, isn't that how it feels a lot of the time? You day dream and mentally interact with your characters, you see things in real life that spawn a mini scene in your brain that makes your hands itch to write down.You have all this beauty and intrigue and pure potential rolling around in your brain so hard it makes you want to explode and then comes the painstaking process of adequately transcribing those feelings and mental images into WORDS. It's like trying to strain pudding.
  But Laini's words bring a measure of comfort.These first few drafts are exploratory, getting to know the lay of the story land. Go easy on yourself. Give yourself permission to write horribly. Set an impossibly high word count as your goal and set a timer and write and write and write. It will come together. Slowly but surely.

You'll probably write a lot of what won't make it into the finished novel. But this helps two ways:

1. You have tons of great back story that helps you write a more dimensional, believable character
2. You're getting so much practice writing that subsequent drafts will be THAT. MUCH. BETTER.

And in the end, those who write, publish. It can be as simple as that. Keep writing my friends!

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