The thing both great and terrible about having a blog like this, is that it focuses your thoughts. It’s great because, somehow the act of putting one thought down on paper gives birth to another, deeper thought. But it’s terrible because most of the time you have the second thought, right after you’ve published the first.
Such was the case with my previous blog post. It was only meant to be an encouragement a word of help to writers who might not be keeping up with the faster ponies in the NaNoWriMo pack. But not more than a couple of hours after I wrote it I came across this blog espousing the benefits of something called fast drafting, and it got me to thinking: what is up with our obsession with speed? NaNoWriMo, Book in a Month, Novel in a Weekend, the list goes on. In fact I’m pretty sure that every single month of the year has some kind of “fast drafting” push writer can get involved in.
Now before I get too far into this, let me say I’ve got no problem with fast drafting or any of these other writing initiatives per say. There is a great deal of wisdom in the idea of silencing the inner editor to a point.
But consider these words: “First drafts are supposed to suck.”
If you’ve been entrenched in the writing world for any length of time at all, you’ve probably heard this mantra. In fact I’ve given this advice myself from time to time. But is it true? Or, asked differently, is it helpful?
From one standpoint, the answer is yes. Every writer struggles with doubts. Every story brings with it a certain measure of uncertainty and apprehension that what is being written is utter crap. As writers we have to move beyond these kinds of uncertainty and press forward to the finish.
But there is a danger, I think, in taking it too far. Your task as a writer is not to simply upchuck sentences until you reach your desired wordcount. You do not get to smear literary excrement all over the page and call it a first draft.
I know, I know, you get revisions and rewrites and edits, and loads and loads of chances to make that story better. But I want you to look at something for me. Just take a minute and look.
Isn’t she beautiful? I mean really. When they made this baby, they distilled the archetype of what it means to be a writer and molded it into a single perfect machine. But think about what it would have meant to be a writer with one of these things. Every mistake you make you had to manually white out. Every edit had to be retyped. And cutting and pasting involved actual scissors and glue.
Do you think writers using one of these might have approached a sentence, a paragraph, a story with a little more caution? Do you think they might have lined up the words in their heads before they started hammering away at those keys, to be absolutely sure they were saying what they wanted to say in the most effective manner possible? I dare say they might.
But now computers have made things easy. And in a sense I’m thankful for it. I’m really glad I don’t have to use whiteout every time I misspell a word. But easy doesn’t always mean better, and it seems that words have lost some of their weight now that they can exist only in the ether of the electronic world.
I do not intend to discourage you from the practice of writing quickly, but rather I want to admonish you to write with purpose. If you are a writer you have chosen a noble path. You have the power to change the world with words. Do not ever use that power lightly, whether you are on your first draft or your fiftieth.
And if you approach that first draft with the proper focus, if you take the time you need to write the best story you can, it will be far easier to build on that foundation in the following drafts.