If you look around for writing advice (which this is not) you will immediately find a great many quotes, some ascribed to writers I admire, saying that the first draft of anything you write is garbage and should be thrown away almost entirely. People will tell you this (as far as I can tell) about any kind of writing; certainly I got told it about academic writing just as I frequently see it said about fiction. It always fuels my Impostor Syndrome a little because I do not do that, and have never done that.
I’m not claiming that I write things perfect the first time – far from it! I do quite a bit of rewriting and throwing away of bits and pieces and part of the reason I’m writing about this today is that I’m presently doing revisions of Bonhomme Sept-Heures to hopefully have it ready before too much longer. But I have never done what so many authors apparently do and trash nearly all of a completed work, rewriting it nearly completely, or thrown the entirety of a paper away to redo from the ground up. (Secretly, I wonder if anyone actually does this.) I have never felt that a first draft of mine was utter rubbish (remember, it takes me a while to work up to that); usually I feel there are bits that are pretty good and bits that aren’t and I try to get to work on those.
I also know that before I actually write something down, most times I have gone over the scene in my head multiple times (sometimes, frustratingly, forgetting a ‘perfect’ line of dialogue) and I don’t really write something (whether sentence, paragraph, or longer bit) straight through. I write a bit, erase some, write some more, go back and throw something in the middle of a bit I already wrote, and then go back and start working on the ‘end’ again. I think I did the previous sentence in three little burst rather than one smooth writing ‘motion’, and this one took me two. Of course this is greatly facilitated by word-processing software and if I was trying to write by hand or on a typewriter I would probably have long had to choose between changing methods or the abyss of despair. However that may be, this leaves me feeling that what I might call a ‘first’ draft has really been heavily rewritten already, but I assume most writers do this, so it probably doesn’t count.
This has always left me with a vague suspicion that I am Doing Something Wrong, but on the other hand the results have been ok so I have kept on with it. Along with the Impostor Syndrome, what this also fuels is my sense that there probably isn’t an absolute Right and Wrong way to write, or indeed any creative process. I think it’s easy to feel like what works for you must be the absolute right way – because it works – so most of the advice out there is probably well meaning enough, but I continue to think that you’ve basically just gotta try some stuff and figure out what works for you.
If I’m in two minds about the whole first draft thing, it may be because editing sets off two different feelings in me overall. One is shock/horror – I am always amazed at the terrible crimes against plot and language that have slipped past me. Which makes me very grateful for my Eager Volunteers and editors. The other, fortunately, is satisfaction. It’s nice to re-read something I wrote and maybe haven’t looked at in a while and come away with the feeling that it works all right. It helps with the Impostor Syndrome.
I suppose it also makes me think that we very rarely get things exactly right the first time, that we often need to give things a little work and a few go-overs to get them right, and that there’s nothing the matter with getting some help as you do that. Here I begin to veer perilously close to Advice, though, so I’m going to call it for this week.
Thanks for reading.