On first drafts

Have you ever had a night like this?

You’re tired but your friends drag you out anyway so you accidentally skip dinner and drink instead and you end up getting terribly drunk and doing one million embarrassing things that you will never live down so you burn with shame when you think of them, and that’s just the bits you can remember.

I have.

And I’ll tell you a secret: this is what first drafts are like. First drafts are terrible. Mine are, anyway, and there’s a good chance yours are too.

First drafts are full of half-finished conversations, horribly transparent attempts at flirtation, twisted ankles, and long boring bits where you are trapped against the wall on the corner of a table full of smelly drunk people talking about things that don’t interest you. And at the end of the night you’ve left your bag somewhere with your credit card and wallet and keys to your house.

You might feel nauseous. You will probably be exhausted. Your head will throb like nobody’s business. You will look back on it all, on how much it cost you in money, time, self-respect and wonder WHY?

Why did I do it?

But here’s the thing about first drafts.

Somewhere in there, amidst all the boring bits and the bits that just don’t make sense and the stuff that you wish more than anything you could take back, there will be other stuff.

Maybe you got up and danced instead of sitting back and watching.

Maybe you told somebody the truth instead of sticking to the usual easy lies.

Maybe you managed to make it through and watch the sun rise over a deserted city and despite everything, despite the blisters and hiccoughs and spilled beer and torn stockings, you feel a sense of peace. Something in you has been released. Things make sense.

And here’s the beauty of it all.

Unlike those terribly embarrassing nights of which there may be witnesses, able to provide photographic or other evidence of all the shit you wish you hadn’t done, NOBODY HAS TO SEE YOUR FIRST DRAFT. EVER.

When you finish it, you get to take a breath, catch up on sleep, then get over your sense of failure and shame, and start again.

You get to work through, word by word, line by line, and look for the moments of beauty, of coherence, of meaning, and protect them, nurture them. Cut the rest away.

That is called editing. It’s a difficult and wonderful thing.

But before you get to do that, you need to let your hair down, let things get messy, make some terrible, awful, horrible mistakes, and write your first draft.

Happy Nanowrimo!

 

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