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Advice: Rough Drafts Aren't So Scary

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Old 10-27-2008, 08:09 AM
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Default Advice: Rough Drafts Aren't So Scary

Originally posted by Rackham:

I'm going to begin with an inspiring quote that I believe in:

"All first drafts are shit." - Ernest Hemingway.

While I'm sure Mr. Hemingway wasn't taking himself literally (although he very may well have), the quote really nails what a rough draft is all about. I can't recall how many times I've come across posts from timid new writers asking for advice on their rough drafts or whether or not they should proceed. I think they very well should proceed. And why not? Who else is going to see the rough draft, anyway? Most writers don't realize how easy they have it. A stage actor can't redeem a flubbed line. A singer can't perfect her pitch during a concert. A writer doesn't even perform until every single word screams perfection; at least, in their own eyes.

"But Rackham," you say, "How can I possibly continue if it sucks?" It sucks by whose standards? Your own? Oh my dear, dear writer, why are you so eager to assume the role of editors, agents and publishers? It's their job to tell you whether or not it sucks, not yours. You should impress yourself with every stroke of the keyboard. You should be mesmerized by the beauty of your prose, the rhythm of your words, and the scope of genius latent in every sentence you create. You should remind all your friends how lucky they are to know a true literary savant. Embrace your inner Nabokov!

Feeling better now? It's that sort of attitude that's going to get you through your rough draft (as well as the submission process, but that's for another time). If you're worried that your friends are going to think less of you because you've got a bit of an ego, just follow the ol' Edith Skinner method and "Find new friends," as she so bluntly put it.

I'm speaking in jest of course, but honestly, it's important to have confidence in your own work. Otherwise, what's it all for? You may very well be adamant about writing for yourself and not conforming to the standards of the literary community, but doesn't that take confidence in itself? To put pen to paper or finger to keyboard? Sure it does. And you've got the confidence.

Think of the rough draft as sort of a sketch. When an artist has an idea, he's going to sketch it out first. He's going to add color, light & shadow and detail later. This sketch is for him. He's basically creating something to work with. That's all the rough draft is, really. A guide.

The most important thing about a rough draft is just to get the story from your head onto the paper. That's it. Perfecting dialogue, pacing, and structure - worry about that later. This is your story. Your Magnum Opus. Enjoy it.

A lot of writers like to edit as they go along. I strongly, strongly suggest that you resist this temptation. Chances are you're not going to like your edits later on anyway, and you're only going to make the process that much harder on yourself. It's important just to adhere to a rhythm. Writing is so much richer when it's stemming from your subconscious. Besides, with a complete draft, you now have something of substance to edit.

Completing an entire rough draft is also a great sense of accomplishment. You've taken a concept and turned it into something concrete. You should be proud of yourself. Now what should you do? Put it in a drawer for a week or a month and work on something else. It's time to separate the subconscious from the conscious. When you go back to revise it, you may be surprised by what you've written. Some things might be great, some things might not be so great. But you're now looking at it with a fresh eye - the same eye an editor is going to see it with - and now you can revise it much more objectively.

In the end, it all comes down to repetition. The more you write, the easier the process becomes. And who knows? Maybe you won't be so afraid of rough drafts anymore.

Good luck!

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