I am the Queen of First Drafts. I love them. Love ratting them off at a speed more concerned with quantity than quality, love the whole NaNoWriMo-style fun of getting the story down as fast as possible. Love writing a good really-bad-first-draft.
Mostly, I just love spewing out the words and figuring out the story as I go, letting it form beneath my fingertips as rough as that green ginger wine stuff I tried drinking as a sixteen year old, and with just as many dodgy consequences. There’s a reason the screenwriter friends of mine call it the “vomit draft” – it’s the draft you complete by vomiting the words onto the page.
Afterwards, of course, is when the hard work begins. With the…Redrafting.
Make sure you read that while imagining dramatic music playing to a sinister climax, won’t you.
If I average between 2k-4k words a day when I’m writing a first draft, I maybe average between two to four hundred words a day when redrafting. It feels like slow going, because it damn well is. Where other writers might take more care on a first draft, I choose instead to struggle with all the problems I created the first time through – and I create a lot of problems.
Big structural problems. Tiny line-edit problems. Character problems, story problems, plot problems. Problems with the voice, the point of view, the whole tone of the piece. Vast, gaping plot holes you could drive a mack truck through. Word count problems, oh don’t start me on word counts.
But that’s not the hard bit. Sitting in front of a dodgy manuscript with a long list of problems is still relatively easy; if I can see the problems, I can figure out how to fix them.
It’s the polished, “finished” (almost) manuscript that are the true bugger to redraft.
I’ve this unpublished novella that’s been kicking around for maybe three or four years now. It’s got some mileage up – it’s been shortlisted in a couple of competitions, received some lovely affirmations, was even picked up by a micro-press publisher before they closed their doors on me. But it’s also had a round of knock-backs and after the most recent shortlisting-but-no-cigar competition, I had contact from a publisher who was interested, but felt it wasn’t quite ready yet.
In other words, this novella is polished, it’s a tight story that works, it is complete as it is. I could, quite justifiably, say I have told the story I wanted to tell, in the way I wanted to tell it, and so it is “finished”, for good or ill.
But clearly I have the chance to take it to another level by putting in just a bit more work. And no way am I going to let it stand as it is, knowing that to be the case.
So I took every bit of feedback I could pull in on the thing, including the publisher’s notes, and prepared myself to pull it apart.
Wow. Do you know how hard it is to redraft something that already feels tight and polished? Do you know how hard it is to revisit something you had mentally marked as ‘finished’?
Do you know how huge that mental hurdle is. ‘Finished’. It’s a massive on to get past, even when knowing no piece of writing is ever really finished and if the round of short-listings told me it was good, the round of knock-backs certainly told me it could be better
The answer: pull in as much feedback as can possibly be sourced. Strain every friendship and family relationship by forcing everyone in the near vicinity to read and critique it. And then just start. List possible places to try and wedge the thing open, get a metaphorical jemmy-bar and break into it wherever and however you can. Just get into the thing and destroy it so it can be rebuilt, bigger, better, stronger…
Well, you get the picture. My point here is that I learnt something as I’ve forced this process on myself when I really, *really* didn’t want to:
Redrafting starts to develop its own rhythm, just like writing a first draft does. It, too, can even be… fun.
Oh. Oh, wow.
I’m not finished yet, but I have done a first run through. I’ve done everything I initially listed as a redrafting priority and have come to the end of that list with new understanding of exactly where I need to expand certain relationships and themes and characters and, even better, how I can do it. The feedback from others is essential, but even more important is your own creative vision, and I have finally rediscovered my personal creative vision for this one.
That’s a really nice feeling. Even if I’m still only averaging between two to four hundred words a day in the redraft, which means maybe I’ll be done with it sometime mid next year.
Anyway, back unto the redrafting breach go I, my friends… catch you on the other side.