Here I am, late again, with the smallest and shortest nugget of wisdom I’ve come across in this whole project: the first draft is for finding the story.
That’s it, and it makes so much fucking sense. We talk about shitty first drafts and allowing ourselves to be wrong and I never quite got it. Then I read a post on tumblr where the poor poster was asking how to plot a novel, and all the pantsers1 showed up to say that the asker should just write and the plot would reveal itself. This sounded like madness to me. I was rolling it around in my head, as one does, when I sat down to actually post this section here on AiS–and when I found that I had left it half-unfinished. I had a whole chunk that just said “tdk2 figure this out later, it doesn’t make any sense”.
What the hell, I thought. This is Adventures in Storytelling, after all. And I just started writing. I wasted a lot of words on what people were wearing, the sky, how airplanes work, control towers… but I got there, eventually. It’s probably not perfect, but I got something, at least. I cut 975 words out of the 1500 I had written–yes, 65% of my words. But I got something.
It’s more than just a strategy for getting stuck in a short story, too. I’m suddenly shockingly, humiliatingly aware of all the bits of my novel-in-progress that are just floundering around trying to find story. Suddenly aware of everything I could cut out to reveal the real heart of what my story was supposed to be.3
I apologise to everyone reading, as surely this seems totally obvious to all of you. I especially apologise to Luke, who I badgered fairly relentlessly about his “freedom to be wrong”. I now realize that’s just a different way of saying “freedom to find your story”.
I googled a couple of variations on my revelation–that the first draft is for finding the story–because I figured someone would have said it better. I’m glad I did, because a new-to-me interview with Sir Terry is always a pleasure to find. I’ll leave you with what he said:
“What you call the first draft becomes rather like a caterpillar; it is progressing fairly slowly, but there is movement up and down its whole length, the whole story is being changed. I call this draft zero, telling myself how the story is supposed to go.”
Have we talked about pantsing vs. plotting here at all? I feel like we all come down pretty hard on the “plotting” side…↩
Yes, most writers use TK. But in my ill-advised youth I named an elf Tkalia, god help me, and needed a new find-and-replace strategy.↩
Also aware of all the things that I would have changed in this project, if I was re-writing it now, but I refuse to obsess over that.↩