Why 1st Drafts DON'T SUCK!!!

by Ksenia Anske


Somebody asked me at a party recently, why can't you just write your book perfectly the 1st time around, why are you doing so many drafts? I tried explaining why and didn't quite succeed. The question bothered me. Indeed, why can't we? Why DO 1st Drafts suck the first time around, or, in Ernest Hemingway's words, why "The first draft of anything is shit." I thought about it all morning, and came to one single conclusion. THEY DON'T. 1st Drafts don't suck. Hey, stop shouting at me! Let me explain:

Can you tell what's tapping from inside an egg? All right, since I had scrambled eggs for breakfast, I thought, hey, the 1st draft of anything is like being inside an egg. On the inside, it makes perfect sense. It's all white and yellow and liquidy and floaty and stuff. All ingredients for survival are right there, you don't need to go anywhere or talk to anyone or explain anything. Get the allegory? It's like being inside the writer's head. So you take your idea and spill it. Out it swims. The problem is, on the outside, the reader has no clue what egg this is. Who laid it? A chicken? A pigeon? A snake? A dinosaur? An ostrich? An alien?!? Meaning, can I touch it or do I have to run for life? When will it hatch? Can I eat it? And so on. Thus, 1st draft makes PERFECT sense to you as a writer, but it makes no sense whatsoever to the reader. And, in that light, 1st draft doesn't suck. Because - It. Is. Not. Meant. For. The Reader!!! 1st Draft for the writer's eyes only (and it's only when the writer imagines it being read by someone else does the writer cringe).

Would you want to sleep on a naked mattress? I don't know where this allegory came from, but imagine a mattress, an old-fashioned spring-loaded monstrosity stripped of its layers. What do you have inside? A cold looking wire-frame. Would you sleep on that? Oh, no, you would not. You'd want layers of foam and some other fuzzy stuff I don't know the names for, and then cotton on top, and then a pad, and a sheet. But, does that mean that the frame itself sucks? It doesn't. Sleeping on it would suck, but it itself is perfectly fine. It's a base, a foundation, and that's what a 1st Draft of anything is. So leave it be already.

Ever saw a baby take her 1st step? Wobbly, no? Exactly. Writing a book is a long loooooong journey. And the 1st Draft is only a first step on it. The point is not to admire it, to judge it, to pull it apart and compare it to all the other first steps you've seen in your life. Nope. The point is - TO MAKE IT. Yes, that's right. Do it. First tries are always like that. Like Maureen Johnson said in her 4 min video advice DARE TO SUCK, if someone gave you a violin, would you suddenly deliver a perfect performance at the Carnegie Hall? No, you wouldn't. But you would try doing it, if only to please the one who gave you the present. And the effort itself is what'll lead to the final step on the journey. Which brings me to the next point.

Why knit a sweater when you can just wrap the yarn around yourself? Like those kittehs (yes, I meant it to spell 'kittehs') do on funny YouTube videos. I mean, man, it takes forever to knit a sweater, so why bother? Besides, knitting sucks. Your back hurts, your fingers ache, your spouse thinks you need therapy or have gone senile. No matter what anyone says, you know why you do it. You want to be able to take this thing on and off, wrap it in sparky paper and give it as a gift, fold it up and stow it in the drawer, wash it and shrink it... fill in your own blank. The point I'm trying to make is - the sweater is a THING. It has a beginning and an end, the top and the bottom, you can hold it in your hands. It has purpose. Same goes for books. 1st Draft is that yarn being looped into consecutive rows, one after another, until it starts taking shape. Each consecutive draft is one more piece, the back, the sleeves. And then one day you're ready to stitch the pieces together (the problem here is, you might discover you mixed up the pattern and the sides don't match in size, but that's a different blog post) to make a fuzzy warm knit garment to be worn to holes.

I can sit here and keep coming up with more allegories, but they're all about the same thing, really. 1st Drafts DON'T SUCK. Because they are 1st Drafts. So they are allowed to suck. Meaning, 1st Drafts DO SUCK. And in that, they DON'T SUCK. (I know, my own brain just got twisted too). BECAUSE!!! 1st Drafts are those first stepping stones in the foundation for a piece of art. Like first layer of paint on a canvas, or first whistled tune from the lips of a composer, or first piece of rough marble chiseled at by a sculptor.

Anyway, what do I know? I'm only on Draft number 4. So, please, esteemed audience, do chime in in the comments. 

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How to write a novel first draft in 6 weeks

by Ksenia Anske


If you asked me several years ago if I knew how to write a novel, I'd stare at you, blank. And here I am now, editing my 1st novel's 2nd draft, still not knowing what the hell I'm doing, but moving forward. I thought, hey, if I can do it, you can do it, right? Why not share? Well then, here goes:

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL FIRST DRAFT IN 6 WEEKS:

Get yourself fired. Seriously. If you really want to write, you've got to write full time. That, or sleep only 3 hours a night and have no social life. Take your pick. Remember, that's what the glorious unemployment benefits are for. (Disclaimer - I didn't get fired, I was laid off, and not on purpose, it was time for me to go, but still. You get the idea.)

Find a supporting body. Spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, distant aunt who loves books, a writer's group - you name it. If you don't have someone to talk to about your book DAILY, and I mean, DAILY, then forget it. Your story will die without ever being born, unless you're an antisocial genius who can talk to yourself in your head. If you can do it, my hat off to you. I can't. (Oh, did I mention that the supporting body better be the one who praises and encourages you no matter what?)

Get a room. For real. The one with a working door that you can slam shut. And some desk and a chair and a lamp. Until you have a spot like that (doesn't have to be fancy, can be a refurbished closet), you won't be able to shut the world out enough to focus on your story. (If you have children in your household, you'll agree with me immediately.)

Do the math. OK, don't make that long face. It doesn't sound sexy, I know. Here is what I mean by it. Based on my research, a typical novel can be anywhere from 80,000 to 120,000 words (more experienced writers - correct me if I'm wrong!). I aimed at 100,000 - just because it's a nice round number. I anticipated to cut about 20% of the total word count when editing, which would make the final book 80,000 words long (good length for a Young Adult novel). I had to produce 3,400 words a day to be done in 6 weeks (not including the weekends). For comparison, Stephen King likes to produce 2,000 words a day. Obviously, his 2,000 is pure genius while my 3,400 is full of air. Do your math to fit your schedule, and tell all your friends the date you'll be done. (They will bug you if you don't - a good motivator).

Write. Yes, write. Wake up, drink a ton of coffee, turn off your phone, close all the browser windows on your laptop (that includes Facebook), close the door, sit down, and... write. I planned my book out kind of like Garth Nix usually does, but you don't have to. As long as you have an image in your head, start there. Write. Don't worry about grammar, or characters, or plot. That will come later. Write. Don't come out of the room until you produce your number of words. When done, walk away. Here is the catch - the next morning DO NOT REWRITE what you wrote the day before. No-no-no. Keep moving forward. Otherwise you'll be stuck in the re-write land forever.

Read. When you've done your daily writing, read a book. NOT a book on writing. Fiction. Read something for the pleasure of reading. Read anything you can get your hands on. Classics. Cult books that everyone reads. Bad books that nobody wants to read. Your friend's 1st draft who is trying to write a book (like you). If you don't have time to read every day, might as well forget about writing. You will learn a ton as you read. I didn't say it, Stephen King did.

Do not chicken out!!! Keep at it! No matter what happens, stick to it! If you think you're stupid, still write. If you hate your story, still write. If crying helps, cry. Cry a lot. Cry every hour if you need to. Or yell at the wall. Or blast loud music. Under no ciscumstances are you allowed to chicken out. Focus on your writing one step at a time, one day after another, and in 6 weeks - presto! You'll end up with a completed first draft. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect, it simply has to be DONE.

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