1. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    First Draft is Terrible

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TDFuhringer, Dec 30, 2013.

    I'm finally closing in on a long-time goal of finishing a novel-length manuscript. I'm on chapter 21 of 30 and finishing at a rate of a chapter every 1-2 days. (wipes brow) But it's getting a lot harder, because it's TERRIBLE.

    A few scenes work well and are half-decently presented. Most of the manuscript is interesting but poorly written. The rest is just awful. It's easy to say "I could write better than this!" when reading a bad book but it's harder than it looks.

    I've shown the best few excerpts to friends and they are, of course, full of encouragement. "Oh it's amazing! I want to know what happens next! When can I get my signed copy?" (eye roll)

    But my internal editor is telling me this is going to take at least three times as long to rewrite as it did to finish the first draft. (grr! argh!)

    What keeps you going when you know it's awful? What keeps you on target when you know it's going to take months to polish the dull turd into a shiny gem?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I wrote out my first draft of a duology in a month and a half. I've been working on the re-write for 2 years and maybe have a year to go on the first of the two books.

    What I had in the marathon draft was mostly the concept, I just went for the story. Now I'm working on actually writing it.

    I can only share my experience, I have no idea what yours was/is/will be. At some point, were I you, I'd re-write it a chapter at a time and not be afraid to add or subtract chapters that end up not working as you change something else.
     
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  3. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    The first draft of anything is shit. - Ernest Hemingway

    As funny as this quote is, it makes a lot of sense. I remember when I wrote my first book, by the time I got to the end of the first draft (the last few chapters were decent, in my view) I looked at my first few chapters and I nearly broke down. The writing was a JOKE. Still, when I wrote the second draft, the same thing occurred - last few chapters were good, first few were awful. In retrospect, I should have written a few short stories before tackling a full-on novel. However, the past is the past, and it is what it is. We learn from all our mistakes, however slowly.

    One reason you may think it's awful is because you have the story in your head, as perfect as can be, and then as soon as it gets written down, the dream vanishes. This is normal. You, as the person who is writing the novel because an idea or concept must be brought to an audience, be that your future self or millions of people, are more critical of the idea because you want it to be perfect. When any author looks back at his work from ten or twenty years ago, I'm sure they want to whimper. It's not as good as the work they're doing now, at least in general. It's hard to get past the idea of having a perfect idea and then having it utterly destroyed, but it's one of the problems of a writer. Here's another quote before I move on:

    Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. - Iris Murdoch

    Finally, what personally keeps me going, to polish that awful thing? Simply, I love the ideas I come up with or brainstorm. That may sound cocky and self-centred, but without a love for your idea, your books are going to be very dull, flat, and lacking that 'spark'. So, with that love, I have to see those ideas come to fruition. No other writer is going to write it the way I want it written, so I must do it myself. That's what keeps me going - wanting to see those characters, those landscapes, that lore on paper, but the way I want them to be.

    Hopefully this has helped you. :)
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I edit as I go, so I'm never facing the idea of months of revising. That said, it can still take months of writing - and when what I've written is awful, I just keep telling myself, "I can make it better. I will make it better.". And, just as I am concentrating on what's being written, I would say you should concentrate on just what's in front of you. Don't look at the whole mess ms - look at what you need to fix on just that one part. At some point, it will suddenly all come together in your head, and you'll know exactly what you need to do. Have faith - we all go through it :)
     
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  5. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Yeap, I think everyone feels the same.

    For me, it's my narrative.
    I ended up rewriting the entire damned thing in a single sitting (original took me a month to complete) and 10 hours later and a few nosebleeds I had a narrative that didn't sound so cut and dry or written like total poop.

    Maybe that's just how I am. I need to write the whole thing before I can focus on making it pretty.
     
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  6. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    For what it's worth I feel the same way with my first novel which is currently nearing completion. My perspective is that the first one is supposed to be bad which means I'm right on target. Best of luck with your project.
     
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  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not a very good writer. But I am an excellent re-writer. - James A. Michener.

    TD, my advice is to go ahead and get the thing laid out and don't worry about what works and what doesn't. I have two (long!) chapters to go on my project, and I fully expect to be finished the first draft by the end of March (I still have some follow-up research to do - I'm working on a historical novel). I already know that there will be major revisions when I'm done, but my focus right now is to get the structure completely laid out. It's a process.

    Once the first draft is done, I will leave it alone for at least a month, catching up on other reading that has nothing to do with this project. Then I'll dig in and start editing - first, reading through to fix any and all SPaG errors, then to get to the problems with the story itself. I already know there will be some things that will have to come out, some new things that will have to go in, some characters who will have to change. As I said, it's a process.

    Good luck.
     
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  8. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Show of hands- who ever goes into the workshop and says "I could totally make this better"?

    That's essentially what you have when you've finished your first draft, only its yours.
     
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  9. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    Yes, these things happen. Joan Didion wrote an encouraging essay called Shitty First Drafts, good read if you can find it.

    I wrote 90,000 words of trash once and I knew they were trash but I printed them all out and carried them around with me for a while to review them. Eventually I put them where they belonged and started over completely,with a similar story but different style and approach. By then I had a much better idea of what was trash and what wasn't, and the first try was a fun exercise.

    Not everything you produce has to be publish-worthy. What's important is that you have fun and learn something.
     
  10. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I've been working on chapter one of Rain When I Die for over two weeks.
    First draft - Revision - Add more showing, less telling - revise again - dialogue looks weird, change it - revise - and so on...

    I'll probably never be happy with it.
     
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  11. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    It happens to me. EVERY.TIME. That is why I try not to even look at what I've written before I'm done, not to mention let people read before I'm ready. I find these feelings easier to deal with when the damn thing is finished. At least I wont risk giving up on it before completion. When you're done, take some time off. A couple of months. Then deal with one problem at a time. I find that it makes it easier not to think of all the months/years of work ahead of me. But don't give up on it. As the others have said, it happens to everyone. (almost, at least) Even Hemingway. :) And if you like the story enough it will be worth it!
     
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  12. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Was that Hemmingway as well that said something along the lines of "for every one page of good writing, ninety-nine go in the trash."?
     
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  13. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Some food for thought:

    When Hemingway said that all first drafts are shitty it's a generic statement, and his shitty first draft has one thing ours don't. His were written by a pro who knew the ins and outs of characterization, handling POV, and all the things the pro takes for granted.

    Obviously, you're unsatisfied with the way it reads back, and feel you haven't yet acquired the level of skill you need to make that story shine. So, should you:

    a) Just keep fumbling at it hoping you'll stumble on the knowledge you need—and recognize it when you see it?
    b) Ask a bunch of strangers, who may or may not have accurate information, how to fix the problem?
    c) See what the pros have to say about it?

    I kind of favor C because at least we know the advice works so far as selling their work regularly. Feedback here is invaluable, but it's not a reliable source of accurate information, because you have no way of knowing if what sounds like good advice is, or only sounds like it is.

    Seems to make sense to acquire what publishers think of as the basics and build on that, because the nonfiction compositional skills we learn in our primary education will make everything we write read like a senior year fiction writing assignment.

    The local library's fiction writing section can expose you to what the various pros and teachers think is necessary knowledge. And while you're there, Jack Bickham's name on the book's cover is a plus.
     
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  14. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    That's an extreme PoV.

    Most authors, or so I assume, do not have a perfect manuscript in one go and, assuming once more, each have strengths and weaknesses that force them to rewrite dialogue here and there or some narrative gone haywire.

    Obviously, they don't consult a book every time. They know the mistakes or issues when they see them.

    Yes, some would dearly benefit from reading up on the craft, but I think the point of the thread is about letting OP know that they aren't the only one who's first draft isn't perfect.
     
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  15. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Every first draft I've ever written has been utter shit. Why? The first draft is always when you just write down whatever pops into your head. Editing is where you fix all of the things that don't make any sense, and so on. It's a process that goes back to grade school English: Brainstorming > First draft > revise > Second draft > revise > Final Draft.
     
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  16. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    As much as I like to take my time and put together a decent-quality first draft, there will always be things I miss or things I do accidentally that I don't notice until later. Things like inconsistent POV, filter words, sentences that sounded good in my head but confuse the crap out of me when I go back and reread. So I'd say, even if you put care into your first draft and try to make it better than the clichéd pile of crap it wants to be, it's pretty much a guarantee that by the end you'll look back and see a good bit of mess that needs cleaning.

    Welcome to the club. We've been expecting you.
     
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  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I know the feeling...

    Oh it gets even better when you're dealing with an alien world and a complex plot and you have to make it make sense and look cohesive. Every time you read your draft, some inconsistency seems to jump out!
     
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  18. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Then you add a second narrator into the mix with her own distinct voice and it's like LET THE GAMES BEGIN!
     
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  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Besides, what I see in @TDFuhringer's OP is a realization of what isn't working, but chagrin that so much work lies ahead.
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This is absolutely crucial, in my opinion. Don't show your stuff to people until it's reached a point where you are proud of it. Do get the first draft finished. And then let it sit, untouched, for a good long while. Months indeed ...even years!

    When you do go back to it, you'll see immediately what's right and what's wrong with it. It'll be like somebody else wrote it, and you'll be able to dive in and make changes without feeling you are throwing away your best work, etc. You will have 'distance' on the project, which is what you need.

    Of course it will be cooking away in your subconscious, even when you leave it alone, so great ideas for improvement may well strike you during the fallow period. Write them down in a notebook, but don't go back to the writing itself until you can look at what you've written with a dispassionate eye.

    Of course people who are close to you may well respond by gushing praise. However, you'll learn to pick the wheat from the chaff. If they like something, make sure they tell you WHY, and get them to be as specific as possible. (Just finding something 'interesting' isn't much help!)

    You'll know you've hooked them if they start discussing your characters and what 'happens' in your story. If all they praise is your writing style, I'd be cautious about taking on board everything they say. The more people who see your work (once it's finished to YOUR satisfaction) the better. You need a wide range of views to build a picture of your target audience, and get the kind of feedback that will really be helpful.

    We all go through phases of thinking 'what in the hell do I think I'm doing?' This is shit, etc. It's normal. Just back away when these negative feelings come, and wait till you can look at the thing with fresh eyes.

    By the way, @TDFuhringer, congratulations on sticking with your story and continuing to finish it, no matter how 'awful' it seems to you, at the moment. Too many folks get hung up on perfection and never get past the first couple of chapters because they constantly write and re-write and never move on. You'll have the total picture to work with, once you've reached The End. Many many writers of novels never get there! You are one of those who will.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2013
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  21. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    My first drafts are not only just terrible, they are often nothing like the final product.
     
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  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that, too. Encouraging, no?
     
  23. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Always. :)
     
  24. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Same here. Except for a few sentences and maybe a full paragraph here and there, my second revision has absolutely nothing in common with drat one. My first draft now looks like a coloring book outline yet to be filled in.
     
  25. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    I always viewed the first draft process very similar to shoveling mud onto a table. It's rather disgusting, grueling work and you end up with rocks and bits of trash and maybe even some old dog poop. It's just the first step to making a beautiful statue or vase or something though.

    You can't make something good if you don't start with the base materials. You keep going because you don't want to be left with just a pile of mud.
     
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