Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Horror of the First Draft

Posted by LD Keach on Thursday, March 11, 2010

(Or, is that a manuscript in your pocket, or are you just wasting your freakin’ life?)

There is a vast difference between short story writing and novel writing. Think of it as the difference between pot and heroin—sure, it’s perfectly easy to just write a short story now and then, maybe just a bit on the weekends (you can quit anytime you want) but it really just opens the door to more the more hardcore stuff.

And, once you’re chasing that novel-writing dragon, there’s no going back. Soon you’re getting up early or staying up late, plugging away half the day at your obsession, constantly fixed on nothing more than getting to those blessed words “The End.” It will be weeks, months, sometimes years before your lust is slaked, before you’ve bled enough over the page to actually call it finished.

But then, after you’ve thrown yourself on the sacrificial altar that is your novel, you wake up one morning and realize; the whole thing is crap.

There are few things more horrifying. I’ve been there. If you’ve ever finished a first draft of a novel, chances are, you’ve been there, too. Not necessarily because either of us are bad writers (well, maybe I am, but my delusions keep me going) but mainly because of the one universal truth that all writers must admit to themselves before they get to Novelist Nirvana:

First drafts always suck.


That’s not to say, of course, that first drafts never get published. Oh, there’s a lot of first drafts out there, infesting the market pools with their oily bile, turning black the hearts of readers who just laid down eight whole dollars for a book that was supposed to be entertaining, dammit. I’ve read one or two myself, and, I’ll admit, they turned me to the forces of evil.

But, don’t worry; it’s not so bad. Even if just looking at that first draft makes you want to throw yourself off a bridge—or get a slimy agent who will somehow manage to use the right incantations to Beelzebub get your draft into print—you have accomplished a wonderful thing. You have a draft! A First Draft means you have passed a horrific hurdle, climbed a dire mountain. You, my friend, are officially a Novelist.

So, I give you my condolences. I hate to say it, but there’s no turning back at that point. You’re doomed. Doomed to toil forever in that vast, maniacal obsession that is novel writing. Now you’ll languish forever in the purgatory of formatting and finishing, query-writing and polishing and dumping hundreds of dollars at your local copy shop to print out submitable manuscripts. Now you'll have to rewrite. (Oh, sweet Beezlebub, not rewriting!) It’s a horror I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Oi. A heroin habit would probably be more useful. Sorry I had to be the one to break it to you.

EDIT: 3.14.10

So, I was hungover the morning I posted this, and rushing to finish my dark incantations to Beezlebub, so I neglected to mention something:

Yes, we're screwed as novel writers. But, once the horror has dawned on us, and we're faced with the realities of toiling forever in our miserably doomed states, there's only two possible options. We can stop...

Or, we can plunge recklessly forward through the murky swamp that is our own twisted literary dreams. We can wade through the muck to get to that glorious reprieve that is a Good Novel, by sweat and blood and tears, and by the screams of a thousand dishes never washed and the howls of a thousand TV shows never watched.

And, really, once you're hooked, that's the only option. To plunge recklessly forward.

I'll see you guys in the swamp.