POISONS OF FIRST DRAFT
First off, perhaps the most common poison: ‘Having an idea for a great story’. Let me explain. It’s quite incredible just how many people have a story of some kind or another building in their heads –even those who aren’t writers. Countless times I have spoken with people about a book I read or perhaps even a book I am writing who suddenly become excited and inform me that they too, have this wonderful idea for a story. This is a fantastic thing but 99.9% of the time, they never do anything about it. A close friend of mine loved the idea of writing a book, had a very intriguing premise for a book, even had most of the plot from beginning to end outlined in his head for his book…but he never actually wrote the book. Even if you have the next New York Times Bestseller rolling around in your head, it will do you no good until it’s written. Many people like my friend talk about it like it’s an exotic vacation they dream of going on one day but will never have the resources to venture. I don’t understand this. Unlike getting a pilot’s license or traveling to Bora Bora, you can dream of writing a great story and within minutes, be living that dream. It’s understandable that the thought can be overwhelming, but most people just overthink it too much. STOP PLANNING, DREAMING, AND THINKING. Whether you think you’re ready or not, do yourself a favor and take your own dream seriously, sit down and start writing! The next poison follows along the same lines. That is, having enough pages of notes and backstory to fill five novels, yet no manuscript. This poison assails many a writer, but most especially fantasy writers. Depending on the nature of your book, it can definitely be necessary to take a quick break from writing your manuscript to plot out some backstory, history, or the like if it is relevant to keep the story running smoothly but take care not to get too carried away. Remember that your primary goal is to write a book and even if the back history of the world you have created is insanely intriguing, nobody wants to read a history book and nobody but you will ever see those notes. Flesh out what you need to in order to continue writing your manuscript and move on. And by the way, if you’re having more fun writing your story’s back-history than the actual story, you’re writing the wrong story! Next, another issue with deadly effects…and contagious! Writing the book with a friend. To be clear right out of the gate, there is certainly nothing wrong with co-authoring. I bring this particular poison up however, simply because it is a common pitfall for many writers, especially younger ones that typically begin their writing journeys with friends and associates who have common interests. The sad reality is that as fun as the idea sounds, frankly, it ain’t gonna happen. Writing a first draft is difficult enough alone and throwing in the complications of having a co-author should be reserved only for the pros. In order for two authors to weave one cohesive, working story, they must match tone, diction and voice so as to not jerk the reader back and forth between styles. Then there is the matter of being exactly in sync with creative choices. Your say in what happens to the plot and characters is diminished by half and if disagreements arise you will either not be in love with your story (which is bad), or the book’s progress forward will instantly die. And we won’t even go into the nightmare of trying to coordinate actual writing/meeting time with another person’s busy schedule! The poison of daydreaming. Some that take the first steps and perhaps bang out a few chapters of a first draft are slowed down tremendously by the excitement that naturally follows seeing your story begin to take shape. That excitement can certainly be motivating and helpful, but it can also get the better of you. Stopping the writing process to think about or even begin planning things that won’t come until much, much later will only waste your time. One acquaintance of mine asked me to illustrate her book or draw up sketches for the cover art. When I asked if I could read the story I learned she had little more than a chapter completed. If you’re taking time out to illustrate, write songs, or cast Hollywood actors to film your book before it exists, I’ve got news for you: it never will. There will be plenty of time once the manuscript is completed and submitted to publishers to daydream and if it gets picked up by a publisher, you’ll have very little say, if any, in any of those decisions anyway. Focus on getting the manuscript done! Fall in love with writing the book. Not with the idea of writing the book. I reserve, I think, the most deadly poison to a first draft and even subsequent drafts. It is a fairly new, man-made poison and is rampant in society today. Digital Distraction. We live in a world full of them. They follow us everywhere. Every one of us I’m sure can admit to falling victim to logging onto facebook to check for a specific communication only to find ourselves hours later watching a video of a dog playing a banjo. We won’t even mention You Tube (curse you, related videos!). When you sit down to write, get in the mindset that author Holly Lisle terms as ‘the Monestary’. A zone where you are alone, in the quite, disconnected, and focused. I dare you to turn off your phone, turn off the TV, and if your computer or device is capable, disable internet functions. Do so and marvel at the increased work output that results without the buzzing of a text or the ding of an online chat. These are a few of the poisons of writing a first draft...or writing in general for that matter. Let's all dawn our hazmat suits and focus on getting the job done! Prescribe us some of your writer's poison antidotes in the comments below and until next time...keep that pen moving!