Creative Writing Advice # 15: Defeat the First Draft Blues, Part 205:57
Step 2: Embrace the Mess
When I was a kid, my mom had a cross-stitched sign in our living room that said, "A messy house is the sign of a brilliant mind." If I knew how to cross-stitch, I'd hang a similar sign over my desk: "A messy first draft is the sign of a brilliant mind."
I know a few good writers who edit their work as they write it. Sentence 1 has to be just right before they can move onto Sentence 2. Chapter 1 has to be perfect before they write Chapter 2. If they get to Chapter 13 and decide to make a change that affects Chapters 1, 2, 5, and 9, they go back and fix those chapters before they write Chapter 14. Some of these writers even manage to finish books!
This guide to revision is not for those writers.
Let's assume that your first draft is a total mess. You wrote it (maybe in a single month); you left it alone long enough to get some perspective; and now you know for sure: This book is a piece of junk. No one in the history of time has ever written a book this bad. At the beginning of the book, your main character's name is John; by the end, it's Jan. You have no idea how or why Jan spent three chapters in Bangladesh shopping for a puppy -- she lives in Indiana, and she hates dogs. Plus, you forgot to give Jan any friends, family, or source of income. Whoops!
Good thing writers are so famously crazy. You'll need at least two separate personalities to deal with this mess.
Personality #1: The Creator. The Creator is great at coming up with cool ideas (like sending your main character to Bangladesh). Flashes of insight and inspiration are the Creator's specialty. Without the Creator, the world -- and your book -- would be very, very boring. However, the Creator is lousy at logic and planning. That's why you need...
Personality #2: The Editor. The Editor cleans up the messes the Creator leaves behind. Editors are great at seeing the big picture, making outlines, setting deadlines, fixing details, and refining language.
If your first draft is a mess, that's a sign that your Creator has been hard at work -- which is a very good thing. A mess means you've been thinking big, and you probably have some really great ideas buried under all the digressions and mistakes. Now it's time for the Editor to take over for a while.
In the steps to come, you will learn when to delegate responsibility to the Editor, and when to call on the Creator. For now, make a deal with yourself: The Creator and the Editor are not allowed in the same room without a chaperon.
And stop worrying about the mess. If you want to build the Sistine Chapel, you have to spill some paint.
Coming Soon: Step 3: Survey the Damage
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