A while back, some friends on a email loop were discussing our favorite part of the writing process. I can’t really say which part is my favorite–except maybe for the HANDING IT IN part–but I definitely know which part is my least favorite: the first draft.
Writing the first pages of the first draft is like going to a backyard barbeque where you don’t know anyone and you don’t even like the food. You kinda stand around and hope someone will talk to you about something interesting, and all the while you’re thinking about the laundry you should be doing, the email that is dying to be answered, the opinions you need to express about anything but this backyard barbeque.
And gradually you talk to one person, then another, and you begin to absorb your surroundings and the mood . . . and by the time the party’s ended, you think you just might like to visit again sometime. Which is a good thing. Because the way I write, a book requires at least four or five experiences of that Backyard Barbeque.
There are so many decisions to make up front–whose POV? Past tense or present? How much to reveal? Setting–and how to research it. And don’t even get me started about that all-important first sentence. Properly done, that first group of words can require as much effort as the entire first chapter.
When I’m first-drafting, I can find a zillion other things to do. Those first few words are like pulling teeth. Case in point: Sunday, I was supposed to write the first 3,000 words of The Elevator. How many did I write? Zero. I worked on our family bookkeeping instead.
So Monday I told myself to write 5,000 words. How many did I write? About 3600. Hey, that’s something. Today I was supposed to bring the total up to 11,000. How many do I have at the end of the day? 5,000. Now I’m only one day behind, and I have OFTEN been one day behind.
But I’ve established my three main characters, I’ve sent the tone and the tense, and these women are beginning to come to life for me. Today I also killed a zillion termites, booked a family vacation, answered a copy editor’s queries, did an interview, answered a college student’s questions, participated in a theological discussion, did my treadmill, updated my author bio, answered about four dozen emails, and cooked dinner. I’m always very productive when I should be first-drafting.
So it’ll come together. Lord willing, it always does.