The First Draft Blues

Ahem. Cue harmonica music. 

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WAH WAH, wah wah. 

I wrote myself a novel,

I made myself a book. 

Four months and seventeen days,

is how long it took. 

I slaved in the mornings, 

I beat my brow at night.

When the manuscript was finished,

I thought it turned out alright. 

But then I read the first chapter,

I don’t know what to do. 

It’s the worst thing I’ve ever read,

I’VE GOT THE FIRST DRAFT BLUES!!!!

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First drafts can really suck. When you finish the months long marathon you’ve been running, maintaining the same emotions and themes and thought process the whole time in order to write cohesively and concisely, you have this brief moment of accomplishment to enjoy. 

Emphasis on brief

Because the second you turn around and read the first chapter, you remember why it’s called a first draft. A rough draft. And let me tell you, they’re always rough. They get less rough as you complete more literary marathons, but each and every one requires a lot of editing. 

The draft I just finished? So much editing. All the editing. And what bums me out the most, what really hits me with the first draft blues, is that I take my time when penning everything down so that my first draft is already somewhat edited and reformed. I’ve already gone from timelines, notes, and rough drafts written by hand to finally typing it up. And it’s still a discombobulated mess. 

But…

Every few pages…

Every couple of paragraphs…

I read something that makes me know the editing is worth it. I read a sentence that is gold. I get to a scene that is played out perfectly. I find a description of something that’s clever and makes me laugh. Which is good! There are parts of the story that I like, hidden in the tangled mess of words that came from me vomiting up my ideas onto paper. That’s good! That gives me encouragement to work and edit the darn thing, because I know it’s worth it. Because if I can get the whole to match the quality of the best individual parts, then I’ve got a pretty damn good book. 

And yet…

WAH WAH, wah wah.

I made it past the first chapter,

and on to chapter two.

It’s so much worse than the first one,

I’VE GOT THE FIRST DRAFT BLUES, YEAH!!

 

Risky Writing

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Professionally writing is a risky business. 

Professionally writing novels is a risky business. Creating a massive, 70,000 word literary journey is a serious undertaking. It requires a lot of sacrifice and no small amount of risk. You first sacrifice time and energy, basically all of both, for a undetermined period. Some authors take a few months to complete their first draft, some take many months, and some even stray into years. While writing you must keep your work close to you, for losing momentum can be deadly to your manuscript and you need the fictional world and characters fresh in your mind. While writing you must hold onto the same emotions that are captured within your book, day in and day out. While writing you must actually work in order to finish the draft, showing up everyday, even when you’re sick or tired or randy, and writing.  

And after all of that–let’s be kind and say you finished in just three months–you’ve only finished the FIRST DRAFT! And the first draft always sucks! You have another four months ahead of you before just the first chapter is presentable. Maybe about four to six more months from there before you have an acceptable draft. Not a good draft, mind you, not a successful draft as far as publishers are concerned, but an acceptable one. And keep in mind, that’s if you’re putting in at least two hours of writing/editing each and every day. No off days for you. 

All that sacrifice. All that work. Is it worth it? Well, that’s where the risk comes in. What if, after all of that, you produce something that the market is already saturated with? What if no one buys it? What if you end up sitting on it for years? What if the few people who have read it don’t like it? What if you experience rejection unlike anything you’ve ever felt before? What if, after all of that, you really produced something poor and unwanted?

That risk, you see, is what separates professional writers from amateur ones. Professional writers make the sacrifice and take the risk, amateur ones don’t. It’s essentially that simple. Are you willing to sacrifice all your free time, months or maybe even years of your life? Are you willing to risk all of that time and energy with the possibility that it could all be for nothing? 

If you say yes, then you might be a writer. And if you are, God help you. God help us all. 

You see, I have been making choices in my writing career that were avoiding risk, that were looking to make the smallest sacrifice possible, and then I was wondering why I felt unfulfilled and stagnant. I was making choices out of fear, afraid of risking too much for too little. Afraid of making large scale sacrifices for an abstraction of the future. 

But no longer. 

Professionally writing is a risky business. When you understand that, you can prepare yourself for the long haul and fill up your tool box with all you’ll need to succeed. 

So take those chances with your writing. Make those big sacrifices. You won’t make it professionally any other way.