Monday, March 16, 2015

First Drafts by Joanna Roddy

 *All photos are from my writing residency last week at Fort Worden on the Washington Coast. 
  

This past week I've been holed up in a cabin working on the first draft of a new novel. I've taken writing retreats in the rewriting/editing stages of a project, but not really for drafting. I had thought that the time and space and silence would make the writing process fly by, the way it had for my previous editing efforts, but in fact I've found (surprise, surprise!) that each movement forward on a first draft is just as hard-fought, just as murky, just as slow as it is at home. I just have more time all put together to agonize over it. (Lucky me!)

In all seriousness, I am immensely grateful for this time. This is now my second time working on the first draft of a full-length fiction project and I'm learning a lot that I wanted to share with you.



1. Freedom. Now that I know what an editing process looks like for me, I'm not so hung up on perfecting every aspect of the draft. With my first novel I would get very focused on progressing through the story correctly so that I spent a lot of time hesitating, nit-picking, or completely stalled out. Now, I'm just getting the story down as it occurs to me. I do pause to think through the next sequence or to research a place I intend to use for a setting, but then I try to keep moving forward, step by step. I know that later I'll be deconstructing everything, combining, tightening and expanding, and that it will all be clear when I have the whole, finished story to work with. 



2. Trust. I've learned that the story has a life of its own through my creative subconscious, through my characters, and through themes that arise of their own free will. The only way to learn these things is to write the story down and to see what happens in the process. It's ok if I can't see too far ahead. The story will unfold before me.



3. Respect. I understand where the "crappy first draft" idea comes from and it's so necessary for people like me, who need to know that getting the thing down is more important than getting it perfect. But I also think there's a counterpoint to that idea. Because I need to respect the work I'm doing to be able to trust it. Getting it down and moving forward doesn't mean (for me, at least), rushing it or settling. I need to be fully immersed in the story and I can't do that if I feel like my main goal is just amassing words. I need to simply do my best with what I know right now. But I also can accept the imperfection, trusting that when I know more, I'll do even better on later drafts.


My visual reward chart: 1 sticker = 1000 words
4. Grace. I've tried to sit down and pound out 2000 words before lunch like Stephen King does every day. I've tried to write 5000 words in a day like Laini Taylor did on a retreat she blogged about. What I'm learning is that I'm me and my success can only be measured in my own terms. In five full retreat days so far I've written just under 10,000 words and doubled the size of my manuscript from when I arrived. It's not the 17,000 words in three days I accomplished a year ago during a rewrite, but for a first draft, I'm realizing this is a huge success for me. As long as I keep moving forward, despite the not knowing, despite the inner-resistance, despite the challenge, I'm winning.

I'd SO love to hear what's been helpful for others in the first draft stages. I'm a sponge right now for any good advice and I love hearing other people's processes. Please share! 

Oh, and in solidarity with Laini Taylor, apparently she just took a first draft writing retreat too! Her advice, as always, is golden. 

16 comments:

  1. Joanna, how lovely! I am holed up in a special cabin in the woods on writing retreat starting a new novel as I write this now! We need these chunks of time. And trusting ourselves, as you write, is a big key. I have over-outlined books before. Now, I've outlined but seeing where it takes me on the page each day - and getting to know my characters which is so fun! I also used to write fast but now write far less slower but I find I now can craft with care as I go and it makes revision so much shorter and easier. Folks often post their "word count" for the day and I wonder...but how GOOD are those words on the page? Good luck with your drafting!

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    1. Perfect timing, Donna! I love reports from the field, especially from seasoned vets such as yourself. It's good to know that it keeps getting more fun. I hope I can craft and draft simultaneously like you someday, but I think I'm still taking it one at a time. Getting there. :)

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  2. I was hoping we'd hear about your retreat! Thanks for the insight into your process. I particularly resonated with the following: "I need to be fully immersed in the story and I can't do that if I feel like my main goal is just amassing words." You will never find me posting my word count for the day on Twitter!

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    1. Michael, I admit to getting a leeetle too obsessed with the word counts. Resisting. Glad for the solidarity. :) Hope your retreat was a success too!

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  3. I love writing retreats! Your process sounds very similar to mine. Thanks so much for sharing your insights.

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  4. Wonderful post :-) And I've only written 5k in a day at the VERY END of the book, the scenes I'd been dreaming of for a year and had finally gotten to. Usually I'm lucky to get a thousand!

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    1. Laini, I'm so happy you stopped by! Thanks for keeping it real. ;)

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  5. Retreats are so restorative. This one's doing wonders for you.

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  6. Ah, looking at your photos is almost as restorative as going on a retreat (but it doesn't get the draft done, unfortunately!).

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  7. Joanna, everything you've said here resonates with me and how I write my first drafts. They are always a journey of discovery. I've learned to trust the process and not try to adopt someone else's process.

    And word count goals suck. At least for me, they do. It comes when it comes, and no sticker on a calendar is going to convince my Muse any different!

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    1. Not even super cute stickers? ;)

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  8. Gorgeous photos! So glad your retreat was full of good writing time - totally resonate with what you said about embracing the freedom of the first draft!

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!