First Drafts – Your Own Block of Marble

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Let’s speak about first drafts. Sorry to say it, but your first draft sucks. I think this might be one of the most misunderstood parts of writing for new and fledgling writers. You’ve completed your first draft but something isn’t right. It’s not the instant masterpiece you had envisaged. What’s going on?

Well it’s simple: It’s the first draft. It isn’t supposed to be perfect. The first draft is to get the building blocks, the bones of the narrative. I think it can be best summed up by a famous quote from Michelangelo (no, not the turtle):

The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.

Michelangelo

That is what your first draft is; it’s your block of marble. Your job now is to start chipping away. Not with a hammer and chisel but with editing and revision. There isn’t an author alive or past that hasn’t had to do this. The illusion that the masters of our craft don’t do this is a common misconception and to be honest, I don’t know where it comes from. But the idea that we don’t get it perfect the first time is one that every writer has to get past in order to grow and have any kind of success.

It’s difficult. Our stories are more than just words to us. They are a part of us and it can feel like cutting off a limb when you have to go in hard with the red pen. This probably one of the most important parts of the process. There is no magic number to how many drafts you will need either. They will, however, get easier each time. The first Henrietta story, which is by no means a long epic tale, went through between 15 and 20 different versions before I submitted it.

The second Henrietta story is a good example of things you may have not thought of in the heat of getting those words down. There is a part where Amanda Moonstar stops a stampeding herd of cows by flying over them and releasing magical bedtime dust. I had the scene written and it looked great. I was happy with it and as actions scenes go, it was pretty awesome. Then one morning as I’m driving in to work a thought popped into my head. The way it was written simply wasn’t going to work. Even in a magical work, you have to account for physics, and dusting a stampede of frightened cattle from the front of the stampede is going to give end up with a very large and messy pile of cows. Why? Because the ones that get dusted first will also be the ones that fall asleep first. So begins the first major rewrite.

It was during this rewrite that I realised that there was also a disconnect between the start and the end. At no point had I mentioned the fact that the Gillyford festival was taking place. It suddenly got thrown in randomly in the middle. So back we go to the very beginning and another rewrite.

So know we are already on the third draft. This is how the process works. You will always miss things out in that first version. Or you will have extraneous parts that don’t add anything to story. They get in the way and will either bore or confuse your reader.

So don’t be disheartened when you’ve finished your story and find it’s not what you hoped for. This is your block of marble and now is the time to pick up the hammer and chisel to carve out the beautiful masterpiece that is inside. This is where the fun begins.

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