First Drafts are…Not(?) Crap

I’ve written fiction now for a while, always intended for print publication. The adages there are always “first drafts are shit,” “we’re not writers, we’re REwriters,” and “revise, revise, revise.” We hear about Hemingway reworking his prose over and over, until he was merely deleting and inserting the same comma.

It works for print fiction. It leaves you with a refined, polished piece that (hopefully) no one can poke holes in.

Every writer develops a process for their stories. Some sit down and write and write and write, letting whatever may come out spill across the page, the story shaping itself minute by minute. Others plan and plan and plan, like navigators mapping a trip. They know exactly where they’re going, and how to get there.

I’ve always been a bit in between. I know where I’m going – I have a destination – and I vaguely know some stops I might make along the way, but I’m usually up for interesting detours and rest breaks.

Writing my first story intended for digital adaptation has been a new experience in my process. For one, this story is one where I don’t have a destination in mind. I’m sitting down and writing it using the NaNoWriMo method: set a timer for 20 min and write madly to hit the max word count in that time. I can hit from 700-1000, depending on how I’m rolling.

What this does is open me up to a lot of different possibilities, the random things that come to mind when absolutely forced to put words on the screen. I usually work in a pretty linear fashion, the story arc in mind, the character arc clear. With this story, I have no idea what is going to happen, what the main character is going to do or decide. For all I know, she’ll do a dozen conflicting things.

In the print story, I’ll have to refine these chunks of wandering inspired by these forced writing periods into a cohesive, linear story. I’ll have to choose the direction I want my character to take, chisel the story and character arcs out of the pile of rubbish that is the first draft. I used to do things this way, but it’s a long process, and so I developed the habit of sitting with a story in my head until it was shaped and ready to be transcribed.

I’ve gone back to this messy method for the digital works because it does allow me to stray from the path quite a lot more often, and from this first draft I’m already getting multiple story threads, different directions, many options for finishing off the story. These are all going to work well for the digital adaptation; chunks I may have to cut from the print story for the sake of cohesion in a linear storyline can be used in a networked, multi-possibility digital story.

So far, I’m enjoying the fact that I don’t know where it will all go, how it will all turn out, if at all. I haven’t had that sense of adventure in my writing for a long time, and I’m glad to have it back.

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