Another writing tip


Here’s what Joshua Wolfe Shank has to say about rough drafts:

Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of “Lincoln’s Melancholy” I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.

He’s right. As someone who regularly rewrites and rewrites the first third of her rough draft, I gotta say – just get the damn thing down. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. You need the shape of it. Got a cliché in there? Bold it and remember to change it on rewrite. The sentence is awkward even as it goes down? Bold it and forget it until rewrite. One particular scene won’t let you go ahead because it’s not quite right? Mark it, make a note and keep writing.

Revision ideas come to you in the middle of dinner? Put a note at the top of the manuscript, in bold, for what you need to change, date it (so you know which idea is the latest and which ones have been superseded by better ideas than this one) and forget it until you’ ve written “The End” on your draft.

Above are some rough notes I made late one night on my WIP. Note the check marks – and also note the scratch through. Even as I was typing those in, I was working on another part of the story and realizing that they wouldn’t work. And since that night, I’ve also realized that some of the notes that got typed into my outline aren’t going to work, so today’s task (if I have the energy) is to keep writing the rough draft, but make more notes for revision, about what won’t work, and how to change it when I do the revision. Am I going to rewrite now? No. I’ll keep going to get to “THE END” and then go back to the revision notes and incorporate them into the story on rewrite.

So you do an outline, and start writing. Or start writing and make an outline as you write – and when the muse finally shows up and hits you with the creative stick, you outline ahead of where you are – making notes about it, crossing them through or check marking them when you get them into the story. Then, during the writing, when you realize that this one or that one won’t work, you DO NOT go back and change it – you make a note and forge ahead. Remember:

It’s called a “first” or “rough” draft for a reason – it’s the rough idea of what the book will eventually be. You need it to get the idea down, to put down all the wrong things as well as all the right things, that you can then winnow out on rewrite.

I hereby forge a new writing rule: ROUGH AND FIRST DRAFTS HAVE TO BE SHITTY WRITING. There. Now go finish that draft and get it ready for revision. If it’s bad, you’ve adhered to the new writing rule. Pat yourself on the back.

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