Today was supposed to be a fantasy post. Yeah, I know. Something happened and I find myself here, staring at a setback.
I made a deadline to have the first draft of my second book done by the end of April. I may still make it. To be honest, I’m not sure. But that’s okay.
It’s good to have goals. We all should. Sometimes we’ll maul our goals like a Direwolf on one of the Stark’s enemies. Yeah, I’m totally working some fantasy stuff in this post. Other times we know when something isn’t quite working. I don’t know about anyone else, but I like to be realistic. I’m not going to lie to myself and pretend my first draft will be done by the end of the month if I have doubts. I may still pull a miracle out of my pocket. I may not.
Going over my outline, and being 45,000 words into the draft I noticed something was missing. The proposed outline would have been, in a word: fine. Okay. Not good, but not bad either. So-so. That wasn’t good enough for me. I’m always looking to tell the best possible story I can. I want more than meh, okay, fine, and so-so.
What did I do?
I stopped writing. GASP! But so many writers say we should write through our first draft and go back and fix everything later. So many writers are okay with a shitty first draft. They expect their first drafts to always be shitty. Soon, whether we notice or not, shitty becomes the norm for all first drafts.
That’s not me. In the military, at least in my shop, we had a saying: Work smarter, not harder. I would much rather pinpoint what’s wrong now, as I’m writing, or, even before I write something, rather than press forward half heartedly. It’s my belief that our final product will suffer because of that same half heartedness, or shittiness.
So I stopped and ironed out what was bothering me with the plot. I upped the stakes and added some new chapters. Hopefully those actions make for a better, more dynamic read, and will also leave me in a great spot for a third book.
I think many writers get so hung up on “finishing” a first draft that any old first draft will do. Quality goes out the window. We become one dimensional, hell bent on finishing no matter what. We lose what makes our writing, and us as writers, special. And all for the sake of finishing a draft that we know will take much longer to go back and revise, rewrite, and fix. Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?
Let’s say we bring the same approach to building a bridge. Would you want to drive across that same bridge knowing the builders were okay with shitty quality while constructing the infrastructure? Sure, they may go back and patch things up, they may not. Just knowing shitty quality was acceptable at any point would give me pause.
Strive for excellence in every aspect of your writing. Excellent first drafts are like anything else when it comes to writing, you get what you give. If you give a shitty effort, you’ll come out with shitty results.
Of those 45,000 words I have for my first draft I’d send every last one of them to my critique partners. I’ve got nothing to hide. I believe the level of quality is pretty high. I don’t accept shitty anything when it comes to my writing. Nor will I ever shrug something off while I create. I don’t want my readers to expect anything less than my best…even in the first draft stage.
While I may not make my deadline, I will have a quality first draft. It’ll be a draft that won’t need much in the way of revising. It’ll be a draft that I can be proud of and not some fixer-upper that needs extensive work.
You. Shall. Not. Pass. Shitty first draft!
If you find yourself staring down a setback, assess the situation honestly. If you need to stop and come up with a better game plan, do it. As long as you’re making your manuscript better, you’re doing the right thing. And I think that’s where so many writers get confused. By allowing for a shitty first draft they lose sight of the fact that they aren’t making their manuscript better. You wouldn’t build your house on a shitty foundation, would you? Then why is it acceptable to build our manuscripts on shitty first drafts?
At the end of the day we must realize that our readers are smart. They’ll know if we cut corners. Piss them off and you can kiss your writing career goodbye. I don’t think anyone wants that.
Always do what’s best for you, and your writing. Just make sure you’re helping your cause and not sabotaging it. If we can constantly create quality, it’ll soon become habitual.
Quality > Shitty every time.