Today’s blog song comes from the soundtrack for the film Pete’s Dragon. Admittedly I haven’t actually seen the film, but I did recently acquire the soundtrack after hearing this tune on spotify; Nobody Knows by The Lumineers. A lovely song, and the rest of the soundtrack isn’t half bad either, with a bunch of great instrumental tracks by composer, Daniel Hart.
Words written for the year: 14,330
I have something to tell myself. It’s the one piece of writing advice — or, arguably, writing fact — that I most often forget. Like, daily. I need constant reminding of this little tidbit, and so that’s what today’s blog is for. For me to remind myself, and put down in writing for future-Damian, so he can be reminded too (and hopefully it’ll resonate with any non-Damian’s as well). So, here it is:
First drafts are just first drafts.
Fairly innocuous, right? It’s the kind of statement that sounds like it’s saying something without really saying something. Except it is, let me unpack it.
What I am trying to say to myself is this, a first draft won’t be an amazing work of art. It won’t be without faults, it won’t be without inconsistencies, it won’t be without superfluous bits, or boring bits, or even typos! The first draft won’t be the final draft. It will be a roughly cut bit of stone that kinda looks like something, but will only transform into the sculpture it’s suppose to be through the laborious act of chipping away at it using the hammer and chisel that is editing and redrafting.
Most importantly: It’s allowed to be shit.
Oddly, a blank page doesn’t fill me with despair like some writers, but rather excitement. I have so many ideas in my ideas folder that a blank page is the playground for them to finally run free in. It’s once the ideas are let out of their cages that the problems start.
The first few sessions working on something, I’m fine. I’m having fun exploring whatever the idea is, I’m learning about my characters and world, it’s great. Then there comes a turning point. It’s right about the time I realise I like what I’ve written and think it has potential to be something good. Then BAM! Anxiety and overthinking come barrelling in like two happy sheepdogs, and bowl me over.
That might be an exaggeration.
What I do do is start to analyse the writing as I’m writing it. I’m trying to think ahead. I’m trying to ask all the questions you should ask yourself during a second draft before I’ve even written the first. Unsurprisingly, this cripples the flow of the writing.
So, again, this blog is a reminder: Stop it, Damian. Stop.
What I really want is to get back into that original headspace. That place where it was more about ideas than story structure or perfect dialogue. It’s from that place where the rough kinda-looks-like-something stone comes from. It’s the right brain. But, for a story to work, for it to feel well rounded and succinct and whole, you need the left brain as well; and he’s the one who keeps butting in with his logical thoughts and analytical opinions and messing the whole thing up.
So, how do I handle my left brain so my right brain can get back to work? Well, one option is try to ignore it through force of will, remind myself of all the above stuff, and tell ol’ lefty his time will come, he just needs to wait for the second draft. But I’m not real great at that. I might put my left brain behind the baby gate, but he’s a screamer, and so the problem doesn’t really solve itself.
Another option is to try and sate my left brain, make him feel listened to. I can do this through outlining. Either roughly plot out the next few beats, or even scratch down an entire storyline, so that as I continue to write I feel like I have some idea where the story is going. I’ve found this to be pretty effective at quieting the left brain, but it can then cause right brain to throw a tantrum. He’s now worried that by outlining the story I’m restricting his creativity and imagination and not allowing enough room for cool and interesting and unexpected things to grow. And by he, I mean me, because they’re both parts of my brain, and this isn’t really how brains work anyway.
To get over this second, second guessing myself, I need one final reminder. The outline isn’t set in stone (too many stone metaphors, I know). The outline is fluid, and malleable, and can be thrown away completely if the story takes an unexpected twist while writing it.
Once I’m done shouting this list of reminders at myself I can then get back to writing the first draft…at least until tomorrow, when I forget them again, and need to start the process all over again.
So, once more, for all the Damians out there, past, present, and future:
First drafts are just first drafts.