The First Draft

I remember the first time I finished “Nanowrimo.” My big moment, when I knew that I was going to complete my first novel-length project was when I was able to tell myself that I was only writing a first draft.

Loudly I proclaimed: “This is not my novel! It’s just a first of my draft! It’s not my novel!” A feeling of freedom set in. It was all right if something wasn’t the way I wanted it to be in the finished product, because it wasn’t the finished product. It was all right if I didn’t like that particular line of dialogue. It was all right if I knew that I was going to have to go back and change everything, because my original plotting ideas were not panning out.

Everything was all right, because what I was writing was not my novel.

It was the first draft of a novel!

There is no such thing as a novel that is written in one draft. Everything needs editing. And, when you give yourself permission to make mistakes and carry on, knowing that you’ll come back and clean up your literary mess later, writing feels a very different task. I realized that I was free to make mistakes. Not only that, but some of those mistakes I thought I made, turned out to yield wonderful things.

So, you’re going to re-write it. You can fix it later. Just keep writing.

If you wait until chapter 1 is perfect before you start writing chapter 2, chapter 2 will never get written.

I tend to speed through first drafts these days. If you read one of my first drafts, you’d find it hilarious, I think. They’re always full of lines like “And then I noticed the man I was talking to was actually a woman!” when I decided I had too many male characters and wanted to change a character’s gender. That’s just the way I write first drafts. It isn’t until the second draft that I start editing… anything really.

If you’re more meticulous than I am, and I’m sure most of you are, and think you might have difficulty letting yourself do this, here’s a tip: color code first drafts. If I know for a fact I’ve written something I need to go back and look at, I change the font color to red. If I’ve written something that I need to go back and research to make sure is right, I color it blue.

The color coding system is personal and best tailored to your own needs. Believe me, I know. But, if you find yourself having difficulty giving yourself permission to leave something you don’t like for the second draft, I find this very useful.

So many of my writer friends struggle with finishing long projects. They run out of steam or enthusiasm, become disenchanted, or run out of time.

But, I think once you get the first draft out, no matter how bad it is, it’s always easier to go back and edit. So remember:

You’re always allowed to be terrible on your first draft.

Happy Writing! Now, I’m back to my Camp Nanowrimo project!

I’ll write more about that when I’ve reached 50,000 words!

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Fiction: A Different Dance

Originally Published on “Necrology Shorts.”

Her feet knew the steps and fell into the light and graceful pattern easily. Her little satin shoes carried her across the polished floor, their pink roses peering from under her pink and lavender skirts. They swam through the waves of music that broke across the spinning couples.

Still, her heart was even lighter than her steps. Everyone noticed her bright eyes and brilliant smile. Effervescent, her delight was contagious. The other couples smiled as she danced past, in the arms of a young man she didn’t seem to see.

The young girl’s partner believed that he understood the reason for her delight, but he was wrong.

*

The blow struck across his face. He tasted the metallic, copper flavor of blood as he hit the ground. He spat into the dirt floor and drug himself up onto his elbows. Fighting for breath, he worked to pull the dark room before him into focus.

He did not want to hurt the man in front of him. Leaping to his feet, he made a bolt for the door and the man lunged after him. He caught Michael around the legs, and together they fell against a rack of tools.

A heavy piece of equipment fell off the wall and landed against his assailant’s shoulders. The cry still in his ears, he made another break for freedom.

*

Freedom was the only thing Lucy could think about. Her partner had requested the next waltz for her. It was a melody by Strauss, one of her favorites. He had done it especially for her, to please her. The realization of this merely irritated her, interrupting her bliss.

He tried to kiss her, but she spun into the next step. She knew what he expected from her, but that didn’t matter anymore.

Soon she would be gone from here forever, and none of this would matter.

*

Michael spun to avoid the next blow. On his back now, he dug the heel of his boot into his attacker’s abdomen and flipped over, scrambling for the way out on all fours. He screamed as the attacker grabbed his ankle, pulling his leg from under him and he was sprawled out onto the dirt floor.

He felt the blow as the handle of a shovel was brought down across the back of his ribs. There was a crack, and the cold breath he sucked in through his teeth sent white hot sparks of pain down his side.

*

Lucy’s breath was beginning to come harder and faster as she kept dancing to the music. Noticing she needed a rest, her partner guided her to a seat and went to get her some punch. While she waited, her thoughts wandered.

She began to wonder if she would even feel married, what with only eloping and not having a proper wedding. Ever since she was a little girl she always thought she’d have a big wedding in a church. The white dress, the organ playing, her brothers in attendance; would she even feel married without these things?

Still, she told herself, her new life with Michael was worth more than a day in the limelight.

*

Michael swung the pitchfork handle and felt it connect with the man’s shoulder. He didn’t want to hurt him. He didn’t. Yet, all reasoning was gone. Growling in pain, the man lunged low, under the weapon and his shoulder connected with Michael’s gut. He dropped the fork and choked as his shoulders and the back of his head connected with the wall behind him.

*

Lucy heard an old maid whisper about how in love she was with her partner and how she’d never seen a young lady’s eyes glow while dancing like that. It made her laugh. She was in love, but not with him.

Her thoughts drifted to what Michael must be doing now. It would be time for her to leave the dance soon, time for them to be together. Her thoughts turned to freedom and her feet flew.

When she saw her partner speaking to her father and two of her brothers, she knew what it was about. Their expressions were so serious. Her dance partner even looked anxious. Her father smiled a dry smile, and pressed his hand against his shoulder.

The men looked pleased and shook each other’s hands. She knew that an agreement had been made and accepted. Under different circumstances, she would be horrified at the prospect. But now, it just didn’t matter anymore. Tomorrow, she would be miles away and none of them would be able to touch her.

She wondered briefly where her oldest brother was.

*

The man’s hands closed around Michael’s throat. He could feel the man’s skin tear under his fingernails as he clawed, but his grip remained. The breath stuck at his closing windpipe.

Michael was seeing red. Spots danced before his eyes as he choked. The back of his neck was warm and wet, and the world was dancing before him. The other man’s face was in front of him. He could smell sweat and blood and the gin on his breath. His hands finally sank to his sides.

In his last moment of consciousness, he felt his fingers grip around something. As he realized what it was, he smiled.

*

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw them talking. They wouldn’t notice her leaving now. As she opened the door and the rush of winter air touched her bare shoulders, she felt like a kite whose string had escaped the sticky hands of a child. Goosebumps rose on Lucy’s arms as she ran down the carriage path, but she didn’t mind them. She rubbed her little white hands against the exposed skin. Snowflakes hit her like little pin pricks, but she just laughed at them.

It was a long walk. She and Michael didn’t dare risk hiring a carriage for their flight, so they’d have to reach the train station by foot. She desperately hoped he’d be there when she arrived at the churchyard.

Cold began to tear at her, but her heart stayed light. It was as though she could see him, waiting for her. She imagined him taking off his coat and wrapping it around her. She imagined walking with him, his arm keeping her warm.

Time wore on and she shuddered in the cold. The church bell tolled, and she knew the wait was too long. She told herself that any number of things could have detained him, and that there was no reason to worry. She tried to smile and remind herself of the new life she was headed for. Humming a wedding march, she leaned against an oak tree, trying to shelter from the wind.

“He’ll be here.” Exhaustion began to take her, and she closed her eyes, resting her head against the tree trunk. She imagined his touch, his embrace, his kiss, and began to feel warm.

“Please forgive me, dear lady, for keeping you waiting.” She couldn’t see for a moment. The fog was thick, and it diffused the light into a dull gray pallor that washed out the surroundings.

“Oh, you did give me a fright. Why, what’s the matter? You seem so strange.” Michael’s face was before her.

“It’s nothing, nothing at all.” He extended his hand and helped her to her feet.

“Are you very cold?” He put his arm around her.

“Not now. Not one bit.”

A New Project and Camp Nanowrimo

Badge courtesy of CampNanowrimo.org

Fifty thousand words in thirty days.

That feels like a lot to write in a short time.

Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, is something that I throw myself into every November. It’s always such an insane and wonderful month. It’s always full of creativity, joy, stress, character love, character hate, friends, competition, alcohol, and randomly deciding to write sex scenes until I figure out where I want my story to go next, because I used up all my plotting notes in the first twenty thousand words.

Yeah, it happens.

But, I really do love it. So, this month I have decided to embark on “Camp Nanowrimo.” For those of you who don’t know, it’s when they do the regular November insanity in the summer months.
This decision was made rather suddenly. My current project is one I’ve had in mind for some time, but it was the concept behind the novel that I’ve been thinking about. The plot and characters are much less solidified in my mind than they usually are when I start writing. So, this project has taken me from being a “Plotter” (someone who plots everything out before they write) to a “Pantser” (someone who flies by the seat of their pants.)

When it comes to the “Plotter” vs. “Pantser” debate, I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong way to write. It’s merely a matter of personal preference. The only advantage I think “Plotters” have is that “Pantsers” have to do more re-writes to make the finished project more cohesive. Although I’ve never had a “plotted” project where I didn’t deviate from the planned plot. So, maybe that’s not even true.

As I said, we’re all different.

But, be that as it may, “Pantsing” is a very different experience for me. And, maybe writing in a way that I’m not used to is good for me. I think I’m writing a lot of things that will get scrapped in the very next draft. But, that doesn’t matter. I feel like I’m stretching myself, and going outside of my comfort zone.

It’s stressing me out terribly, but I’m enjoying it. I’ll write more about my new project in the next blog entry.

Now, I wonder if I can count this entry towards my Camp Nanowrimo word count…