First drafts are elusive bastards aren’t they? It all seems so doable on Day One, when you're fresh, well rested and optimistic. You have a very specific idea about where you want your novel to take you, but then, inevitably, a month later you’re pacing around your living room, too much caffeine in your veins and unwashed hair, staring at a wall covered in the scrawled spider diagrams, timelines and lists of a mad man, wondering when and where things got so damn complicated.
Add in a lot of unexplained crying to the above and that was how I felt at every single stage of writing my first book. Crazed. Stressed. Worried. Very frowny (**see pic). I essentially panicked through every sentence and paragraph that the words I was writing were embarrassingly appalling. Lying awake telling myself it would never get published. That I was kidding myself to think creating a book was a possibility. I grumbled and groaned my way through the whole process, and that’s no way to experience the thing you’ve been dreaming about doing your whole life now is it?
This time round (thankfully) I’m not being so hard on myself and what I’ve discovered is that first drafts can be fun…if you can just chill out.
When you come from a place like London, that thrives on pressure, and you have very specific deadlines in your head for getting things done, it’s easy to feel that burden welling up in the pit of your stomach, threatening to make you vomit everywhere if you let it defeat you. I’ve been batting this in the last few weeks in Australia. Of course I want to make sure that this jaunt to the other side of the world reaps rewards. I don’t want to return home feeling like I could have done more – that I wasted the time that I specifically set aside to pursue this important aim, that if I don’t write 100,000 words in that time am I letting myself down? Letting other people down? Can I even call myself a writer? Am I just kidding myself about this whole author malarkey…etc etc. It seems these thoughts and feelings are writers’ bread and butter – but it’s also our choice whether to let them dominate, or to firmly tell them to DO ONE.
Yes…first drafts are frustrating. Yes…it would be lovely to be in the magical swing of things, to have written the whole story and to have entered the waaaaay more enjoyable editing and honing stage, BUT that’s not possible until you have tossed and toiled and persevered through a first draft.
This isn’t a time for too rigid a writing plan. It’s a time to discover plots and themes you didn’t anticipate. It’s a time to give yourself permission to be whacky, free and ambitious with your aims. It’s a time to read, and experiment, and learn. Nothing needs to be perfect at this stage - that’s why it’s called a draft. There will be 4, 5, 18, 44 of them eventually, so how god awful your words are right now is something to notice, laugh at, and then move past.
I love quoting our authors as much as possible, or returning to their soothing words in our podcast when my crazy is threatening to bubble up out of my socks, but this time I’m going to reference some words from Rosy (mostly because I miss her terribly). During a skype chat before she jetted off to South East Asia – she told me, “These things are supposed to take time, Ames.” She referenced Gabriel Tallent, author of My Absolute Darling, who pointed out in the podcast that if you’re trying to write something that challenges perspectives…surely you need to allow yourself time for yours to change too?
And that’s first drafts in a nutshell – you come in with one perspective on how you want to tell a story, and a billion new ideas and tangents appear as if by magic. That’s actually pretty wonderful - so let’s all decide embrace it.