The First Draft

"The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." - Terry Pratchett

I've been thinking a lot about this quote lately and I have come to see the truth in it for me as a writer. When I started my first manuscript almost two years ago, I basically downloaded the contents of my brain into a word document. Every detail, every tiny piece of character history had to be included. During this creative phase I kept a notebook with me everywhere so I could capture that one thought, plot twist, or bit of dialogue before it disappeared into the ether.

I wrote at strange hours. I sometimes forgot to eat. I ignored my husband and kids. But by the time I came up for air, I had a story. A full-length novel actually. And I knew it intimately. I understood my characters, the inner workings of their hearts, the things that challenged them, the things that made them laugh. I knew the complete history of the worlds I’d created. I could smell the air, taste the food, and walk through the forests and city blocks. I dreamed of my creations.

When I wrote the final sentence I breathed a huge sigh of relief (and I’m sure my family did as well). It was out! But it wasn’t even close to finished.

Now I am editing. Editing is mostly not fun. It requires you to take huge chunks of painstakingly crafted writing, writing that may have taken hours to perfect, and delete it. It demands you view the adverb, a previously benign and seemingly helpful part of speech, with suspicion and hostility. It demands you chase your spouse around the house reading bits of dialogue from your manuscript asking, “Does this sound natural?” 

What's fun though, or at least what's satisfying, is transforming your story from a rambling, exhaustive, stream of consciousness draft, to a work that has structure, flow, and even some artistry. I am learning when to reveal a detail and when to let it unfold. I am learning how to create authentic dialogue. I am learning the difference between telling myself the story and showing others the story. I am learning to be patient.

I'm now on my third and hopefully final round of editing this manuscript. Sometimes the process makes me cranky. Often it makes me frustrated. When that happens, I come back to Mr. Pratchett’s quote and I'm reminded that telling myself the story was part of the process, but only the first part. Now, I have to continue the work for it to become both a good story and a good piece of writing.