An Alternative To Shitty First Drafts?

8 thoughts on “An Alternative To Shitty First Drafts?”

  1. As usual with these kinds of articles there’s no right answer. I’m not much of a reviser. I work slowly and aim to get it right the first time. I did scrap the first 10,000 words of my fifth novel and began again. The biggest change was a move from a third to a second person narrative. I’ve half a dozen short stories kicking around that I’m not happy with. Most are over ten years old so it might be an idea to have a look at them now I can’t remember a damn thing about any of them and see if there’s anything worth salvaging. It’s hard to stop something that you’ve invested months or even years in and start afresh. But you do need to know when you’re flogging a dead horse. I hit a brick wall about a third way through my third novel and so I stuck it in a drawer for two years, worked on a completely unrelated project and then returned to it with a clear head, a new direction and finished it with comparatively little effort. I think the problem many authors have is time. Perhaps it’s my age. Although in one respect time is running out for me I’m not as desperate to get my stuff out there as I once was. I wrote a novella a few weeks back and a friend was asking when he might see it in print. I told him: 2019. I wasn’t joking either. I leave my prose a long time before editing/revising/rewriting/proofing etc. I personally find the distance helpful but then I’m not writing for a living and I don’t have an agent ringing me up every weekend wondering when I’m going to be finished my next book.

    1. Very wise words, Jim. I’m startng to hit that point in my life also where I’m asking myself what’s the rush? Not that I’m a speed writer or anything.

  2. The tension here (for me anyway) is always between process and product. The writing will never be as good as the writer because each word on the page makes the writer better — the best work is always the next word, but that word takes the writer to the next level of her ability. And so on. All pieces are stepping stones. So I say yes, you can ditch the product — every writer worth her salt has a drawer of WIPs that are still IP — and move to another and still call the time and effort valuable. We should do more of that (writers don’t like to hear that, especially writers working on their first something). But we should.

    I don’t make pottery, but I wonder — what do people DO with all those not-quite-right pieces?

    1. I’m pretty sure they throw them away, at least that’s what I recall Angela saying.

      On Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 3:10 PM, Write, Rather

  3. I certainly see the merit for short stories (novels too), but I think this is really brilliant for composition class! Their idea of revision is simply to stick in a few commas anyway… I have had them completely rewrite narrative essays using a different narrator as an exercise in voice and perspective, but they still tend to want to copy and paste and not completely rewrite. Hmmmmm, food for thought as I sit here revamping 1102 syllabus for fall!

    1. Oh My God, I can’t imagine how much your students would hate you for that, but here is the thing: what if you have them do that in class? It might really throw them off the loop, especially if, say, you have them submit the essay, and then you have them take out a pad and just tell them to write another draft. An exercise for lab? And what about merely just using class time for them to write a number of short essays on a subject, and then having them share them and use the best ones in some ways, put them together into a coherent but long narrative? That might be good? Just brainstorming.

  4. as a dabbler in visual as well as written arts, I can say there is absolutely merit to what you propose. sometimes one just has to put a piece away.

    then too, some writers’ published works demonstrate a coming back to the same clay nugget of perception and shaping–perfecting?– it in different, consecutive, works–but without throwing the earlier works away.

    for stories, the “throw away” approach might work well. but as you well know, novels take a long time to write. *some* revision of a long work is certainly appropriate, for a variety of reasons you don’t need to be told. so… in the case of a novel, I’m not sure throwing it away is the answer to improving one’s work, though it might be a consideration.

    I guess my response would be to go with your gut. not exactly a groundbreaking solution, but a reasonable one.

    1. Fair enough. But when writers do these NaNoRiMo stuff it makes me wonder if maybe you CAN dedicate a few months to writing a novel, examine it for what it is, throw it away, start a new one: same concept, maybe, or same character, just, instead of revising, rewrite it. How long does it take to make a painting?

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