Your Words are NOT a Waste!

17 Jan

Last week, I had a conversation with one of my critique partners about first drafts—her in-progress first draft, my feels-like-forever-ago first draft.

Every now and then, she finds herself stuck writing this first draft, afraid of taking a detour that will end up being a mistake, a major waste of time.  As seems wise and logical, she’s trying to be efficient.  Efficiency is, by NO means, a bad thing.  But…in the first draft?  It can be paralyzing.  Same with perfectionism, which we both know all too well.

This got me thinking (and confessing) about how drastically my novel has changed over the course of four drafts.  I actually cracked open that first draft to see how it compared to what I remembered about it.

Oh.  Man.

It was, like, a completely bare-bones version of what I have today.  My minor characters are mere shadows of who they eventually became, my main character isn’t fully developed yet, it’s complicated but oversimplified at the same time (I know, that doesn’t make total sense, but trust me), two important minor characters don’t even exist yet, one character is WAY important in this draft but eventually became background fodder in later drafts, several plot points existed then but have morphed over time, the ending has changed completely.  I used way too many words to communicate things.  My paragraphs?  OY VEY, my paragraphs…some of them are, like, half a page long.

Basically, it was like an 85,000-word long extremely rough draft.  Which is why I scrapped most of those words and started over from a blank page for the second draft.  And then, on the third draft, though the story was mostly in place and I kept a lot of the ideas in tact, I knew I could write it better.  I started over from a blank page again.  I rewrote the beginning for this fourth draft, but mostly, this is the first time I’m actually editing words on a draft instead of rewriting them all.

All of that to say: I cut a LOT throughout that whole process.  That which I didn’t cut, morphed into better stuff.  It’s taken a while to get here.  But, hey, it’s my first attempt at writing a novel—I would have been delusional if I had thought it would turn out perfect on the first draft.  It was coherent, yes—but it’s gotten SO MUCH BETTER, much more complex, much tighter, much deeper, since then.  And, there are no more half-page-long paragraphs. *cringes*

I can say, 100% without a doubt, that it would have been a very, very pale imitation of itself had I merely tried to be efficient early on.  It’s taken all that work, and all those words, to chisel away at this story, to really know my characters, to learn how to write tight but effective prose, to spin and weave my novel’s various threads.

My words, my thousands and thousands of words, were not a waste.  Neither are yours.  Be patient with your story.  There are upsides and downsides to efficiency—don’t worry if you take detours.  You can always edit them out later, and the detours will probably spark better ideas you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise!

Happy writing, my friends!

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8 Responses to “Your Words are NOT a Waste!”

  1. Megs Monday / 17 January 11 at 10:55 am #

    “it’s complicated but oversimplified at the same time ”

    I feel like you peeked into my early words file because that is exactly how I tend to write out of the starting gate. (Then I wonder why I have problems with clarity. :shakes head at self: )

    When I was writing fanfiction, I learned that it took twelve chapters to even know how the story was turning out. Sometimes, I keep going after the twelve, but oftentimes, even at that point, I’ll open a new document and start over. What comes out the second time is richer and stronger and better for the extra 100,000 words of fiction writing (not always on THAT story) that I’ve written since I started the first time.

    We keep growing as writers. It’s part of the process, as long as we keep putting words down on the page. That growth means that we can recreate the same material so much better, but it COMES FROM having created the best material we could at the time, however inferior.

    One time, Rabia Gale compared writing to photography and I thought then of one of the things so many writers are NOT willing to carry over from that medium: repetition. We can’t be afraid to repeat our work. In photography, we’ll take a picture at several different angles and lighting and pick the best one. There is absolutely NOTHING but our own fears to stop us from doing the same thing with our writings. By the time we’ve bitten our nails and vacillated and hesitated, we could have written it again already. I cannot tell you, Kayla, how much I’ve admired you for being willing to do just that.

    Well, awesome post. And happy for your new critique group! Happy writing.

  2. Beth @ To the Fullest Monday / 17 January 11 at 11:13 am #

    This post is both super encouraging and slightly panic-inducing. Breathe, breathe…I’m just pounding the first draft out now… :)

  3. Merrilee Monday / 17 January 11 at 6:27 pm #

    Aye, you just need to write and trust to the process, even if the words take you to strange places. I’ve restarted a story three times, discarding a combined total of 45,000 words to get where I needed to go.

    Every word is a learning word :) Great post, Kayla!

  4. Genna Sarnak Monday / 17 January 11 at 11:09 pm #

    Another wonderful post, Kayla! I love the idea of first drafts being chiseled away to reveal something greater. Truly beautiful and very motivating!

    Thanks for sharing and I can’t wait to read the final version of the novel!

  5. Liza Kane Tuesday / 18 January 11 at 1:50 pm #

    Hi friend!
    Not to alarm you, as you’re my alpha reader, but this is basically my process of writing too: just keep writing and hopefully I can write something close to the image that I had in mind. Then, go back, and fill in details, erase stray marks, lather rinse repeat, until the story represents that vision.
    Lots of work, but definitely how I do it. And I never think those words are wasted: in fact, I keep little folders named “culled” and “snippets” for future inspiration.

  6. and flowers pick themselves Wednesday / 19 January 11 at 11:28 am #

    love this. very thought provoking + inspiring. thank you!

    xo Alison

  7. Melissa Friday / 21 January 11 at 11:13 am #

    But I want it to be perrrrfffeeecccctttttt. Bah.

    You know, I was browsing over my various writing pieces over the last year & a half. I’ve noticed such a substantial change, just in that much time. Comforting.

  8. Heather Simone Thursday / 27 January 11 at 5:07 pm #

    I’ve so been there myself. The work I wrote for NaNoWriMo was like that. I had written the thing part way once. Set it aside and rewrote it only to finish it and tell myself it was a mess. I set it aside and decided it was a waste.

    Then when NaNoWriMo came along. I rewrote the entire thing over again without obsessing or using an outline. I didn’t even use any writing from the two originals. In the end I didn’t feel like I had wasted as much time and energy on the first two drafts. I needed them to discover the story and my writing style better.

    Words are never wasted. It’s all part of the process. :-)

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