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.
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!