I've been talking about first drafts a lot lately on my personal blog, and after reading comments, I've discovered how universal that "my story is awful, what was I thinking?" feeling seems to be among writers.
The first draft of a book can be a terrible experience. We're embarrassed by our own story. It's betrayed our original idea for the book and turned it into our worst nightmare--something boring. The characters have taken on a life of their own and are doing irrational things. The plot we so neatly laid out in our minds has changed so many times we don't even know the ending. And the black moment? Forget about the characters--we as writers are having the black moment now as we think to ourselves (and let's face it--we've all had the thought!), "I'm a sham of a writer. Everyone is about to find out I'm a sham."
But we trudge through, then go through several editing rounds, and poof! Our confidence is back as our story once again turns into the fabulous idea we once imagined, only better. Everything is happy and cheery again. Until the next book rolls around...
So what can we do to keep this cycle from occurring? To beat these first draft blues?
1) Have realistic expectations. I had such a hard time beginning my WIP. I literally rewrote the first chapters three times. I decided I needed to start sooner and sooner. I kept thinking, "I thought I had grown so much as a writer through my last book. My last book was so good. It shines. This book could never compete with that." Um, hello self! My last book turned out well because I edited it somewhere around four or five times. It's important that we look at the first draft for what it is: a chance to tell the story. It's not a polished manuscript, and it's not a finished book. That is okay. Give yourself permission for that to be okay. Stop playing the comparison game.
2) Enjoy the storytelling process. If you are a creative writer, you enjoy storytelling. So give yourself permission to really indulge in the fun behind your story. Imagine what your characters might do in everyday scenarios. What would they might say if they were behind you in the Starbucks line? You might be surprised how much easier this makes the process of writing your first draft... and how much fun you have in the process. Just don't talk out loud to your characters... at least when anyone's watching.
3) Don't edit until you're done with the first draft. Okay, I admit it. The phrase "epic fail" comes to mind when I think of my own track record with carrying out this rule. But editing too early can be detrimental to the creative process. You're trying to figure out if your character's purse should be red or green while she's still trying to figure out her innermost fears. Give your characters and your plot room to breathe. Editing too early can be very limiting because you don't yet know the patterns that will develop as your larger book takes shape. I've heard of people editing the last chapter they've written before beginning the next one, but for most people, I don't think this is a good practice. If memory serves me correctly, I believe James Scott Bell recommends in his fabulous book Plot and Structure that you shouldn't edit at all (or at least very minimally) until your first draft is totally complete, and I think that's great advice.
4) If all else fails, organize. I took a poll on my blog asking authors how they make it through the first draft. I was surprised how many of them said they use variations of an outline technique. Some make an actual outline, others make a detailed synopsis, and others just figure out the bones of the story before they begin writing. Regardless of whether you're a seat-of-the-pants writer, sometimes it's very helpful to know your basic character arcs and turning points so that you know what direction everything in the story should be heading.
5) Do. Not. Quit. This is my biggest piece of advice. When you feel like you're writing the most boring story known to mankind, keep on keeping on. Remember that the editing stage is there for a reason, and you can rewrite that little thorn in your side as many times as it takes to make it shine. As I said on my personal blog last week, a poorly written story can be edited. An untold story is of no benefit to the reader at all.
I want to close with a verse that I hope will bring you encouragement as you work on your drafts. Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." It's like a piece of pottery. Your story might feel like a big, cold lump of clay right now. And maybe it is. But God has gifted your hands to be a potter, to craft a vessel He fill with His grace and show off to the world.
If God has called you to write, you can be sure He has not forgotten about that calling. It might take seventeen books or six rewritten drafts, but there is a purpose for every season we are in. If we give up when we feel discouraged, if we stop before we ever make it to that stage of refinement, we will never know the glory of our true calling in Christ.
I want to hear from you! Have you ever felt like giving up in the middle (or maybe even the beginning!) of your first draft? What keeps you going? What do you do to keep your goal in sight?
Photos from http://nandinibajpai.blogspot.com/2012/04/first-draft-in-sixty-days.html, http://www.motlministries.com/2012/03/ability.html, http://www.theblazingcenter.com/2011/02/god-isnt-finished-with-us-yet.html
Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.