writer and domestic dude

Mission Accomplished? A First Draft

It’s printing as I write. Simon Krimple’s Wager. The first time I’ve printed any of it as a matter of fact. A first draft. 100,000 words later and mission accomplished! 325 double-spaced pages. A first complete draft. Wow. Feels pretty good. A signpost in the sometimes seemingly endless terrain of novel writing.

A first draft is a special animal. For me, the goal this time around was to get it down. Beginning, middle, and end as I’d often tell my students when we’d do a writing exercise. Get something down all the way through. All the way through being the key phrase. In this way, you can justify keeping up with brick-and-mortar things like meeting a daily and weekly goal for word count. You get into the zone when you can, but sometimes you slog forward with prose you know probably won’t make the cut later on. Maybe it’s not the wisest approach. After all, words are words. You can fall in love with sheer quantity, patting yourself on the back for producing some certain amount of words that very well may suck. It certainly isn’t a “best words, best order” approach. But that’s for the craft drafts, right?

I won’t name my goal, and actually the word count itself is less important than the main goal, which was to produce a “complete” first draft in 12-16 weeks, depending of course on where the narrative took me. But I did chart my daily progress. It helped with accountability, too. If I’m counting correctly, this first draft took 20 weeks (but there were a good three in there over the no-school holidays where very little got done and there was a week in Disney), so technically I feel like I was only about a week off in meeting my goal.

Mission accomplished? Well, let’s say I hope it isn’t the equivalent of standing on an aircraft carrier three weeks into the Iraq War and saying the same thing. But I do know there’s a way to go yet. Layers of editing, arranging. In short, the craft. Poet Tom Lux says he loves all the in-between drafts. The first is scariest. Just getting it down. The later drafts of fine tuning can get wearying. The in-between drafts are where so much of the excitement and artistry get done. I believe novelist Richard Russo, who takes about four years for each novel, says something similar.

Perhaps I shouldn’t tell Shelley that part about four years? Yikes, it’s still printing!

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