News | 2013 | Unintended Sabotage

First drafts are a dangerous, delicate time for me. I hate them. Without discipline, a schedule, and a set quota, I'm creative enough to think of myriad procrastinations that keep my pencils sharp, my bed made, the dishes washed, and my butt anywhere but firmly planted in my writing chair. I'm also loathe to talk about a project at this stage--I believe strongly in the separation of creation and evaluation. During a first draft, if that little editor in the red suit, horns, pitchfork, cloven hooves, and tail sits on my shoulder and starts with the tsk-tsks, I flick him off unmercifully. As I'm so fond of repeating, the first draft of anything is supposed to be shit, so I don't question, I just write. I know I'll fix the problems later during my revision phases. The purpose of a first draft (for me) is to get the story down on paper so I don't lose it.

Which normally works out fine, as long as I'm obeying my own rules. But sometimes, I don't, and of course, the consequences are my own fault. I was having a friend over for dinner when the question of what I was writing came up. Normally, I'd say I'd prefer not to talk about it, saying my fear of over-examination at this stage may kill a project. But this time, out of compassion, I didn't. The friend isn't a writer, and I don't believe the friend would understand my fears and insecurities about my first drafts, and honestly, I believe that friend was just trying to make a connection with me and have something interesting to talk about over ratatouille. So I spilled. Not the plot, or even my intended structure, and certainly not the characters, but the situation--the world in which the novel I'm currently writing is set.

And then I learned again, very quickly, why I make up little rules. The friend, whom I've chosen to believe was trying to be helpful and didn't grasp the full implications of the ensuing discussion, proceeded to tell me what I was writing wasn't new at all and I should find something else. In fact, my story sounded just like an episode of a television show that had aired a while back. And then the friend described that episode in incredible oh-my-God-what-have-I-done detail. Again, I've chosen to assume that friend was just trying to make a connection and possibly help me out by pointing out wasted time and effort, but that conversation had the potential to be devastating (months of work down the toilet). I've never seen the show the friend described, and on reflection, my concept is not the same at all (in fact, the stories are completely different genres), but still, I felt gutted.

As luck would have it, I've got a carefully crafted outline (which I've only deviated from slightly in my two-thousand-words-a-day sessions so far, but will probably stray from more wildly sooner or later) and that's given me some comfort. At least I'm not derailed. The last time I opened up about a first draft, that novel died on page eighty. Coincidentally, that's the day I came up with my don't-share-first-drafts rule. Now, a little bruised but a little wiser, I'm amending that rule to be don't-share-first-drafts-ever-again-I-mean-it-remember-what-almost-happened-last-time. Fingers crossed I'll stay on track.

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