The Process: The Rough Draft
“I want to write a book, someday.”
This is something I hear from a lot of people when I tell them I'm a writer.
I usually observe a familiar sense of uncertainty from these would-be authors. I say 'familiar' because I was once there myself. I was eager to write something worthwhile, to be published and see all of my dreams come true, but also unsure of myself, my work, and even where to begin.
As a kid, and into my young adult years, I harbored fantasies of sitting down with a beautiful ledger and putting pen to paper as the greats had done before me. In these fantasies brilliant words flowed onto the page with virtually no effort on my part.
I have scores of journals with half-finished stories, and plenty of Word documents cluttering up my hard drive.
The pattern with each of these potential masterpieces was the same: idea, excitement, fizzle-out.
I would get what I thought was a great idea, and sit down to work on it, sure this was going to go somewhere. Invariably I would become disappointed with what I had written, or I would run into a day where the muse was elusive, and I would give up.
To be honest, none of this was truly profound work so I didn't deprive humanity of anything. I digress..
In college I received a profound piece of advice: do not be afraid of the crummy first draft. The actual phrasing was somewhat more colorful, but the essence is the same. I wish I could say I went home and wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning magnum opus, but alas, I had some growing up to do.
Years passed, where I barely wrote anything.
But, soon the time came to sit down and write my first novel. That single piece of advice from college came back to me. So, I began to write, heedless of whether it would be good enough to be published. That attempt ran out of plot after after a few chapters, but it was a start.
A few years later I actually wrote a complete manuscript, and then another.
The key in each of those instances was that I didn't try to produce a masterpiece right off the bat.
I began to understand that writing was a process, at times beautiful and at times hideous, but a process nonetheless.
Writing, for me, was a lot like drawing. I would begin with a basic sketch, and then refine as the process continued.
My rough drafts are something no one will ever, EVER see. Why? Because they're embarrassing. There are enough grammatical errors to give an English teacher a stroke. There's bad dialogue and awkward scenes and weird transitions.
And that's okay; I'm just getting the story onto the page.
Once I reach the end, I walk away for a bit. This clears my mind, and allows me to come back to the story with fresh eyes. When I do go back to the manuscript, I usually spend a fair amount of time talking myself down off of the ledge of self-doubt and criticism where I've perched, convinced no one has every written so poorly as I.
I revise, and revise, and revise again. And then I show it to someone, and let them comment on it.
And somewhere, in the midst of all of that, this rough, hideous draft takes on a life of its own and becomes something beautiful. Don't get me wrong, people may hate what I did, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I made something that I think is worthwhile, and that I enjoyed creating.
Along the way I discovered what it truly means to be a writer and whether people love my work or hate it, I love to write. Some of this is that silly romanticism leftover from my youth, but I honestly enjoy the process. I enjoy creating a world and losing myself in it, discovering the tale and where it's going to go. Whether I make a fortune as a bestselling novelist or not, I will probably always be writing.
If you're thinking of taking up this whole writing thing, take this to heart: write, and don't be afraid of what you write. Too many people get so bogged down worrying about whether or not it's perfect, that they neglect to start at all.
My third novel ended up being published, the crowning achievement of my years of hard work.
Even now, though, with the book in print, I still pick it up and wonder if this or that phrase was the right choice.
I quickly realized that this is one step on the journey, and that it's okay if it's not my crowning achievement.
If you just want to be published, this life is probably not for you. But if you love the simple joy of watching words appear on your computer screen, words that breathe life into people, places, and scenarios that came out of the stew of your imagination, then you will find reward in your work regardless of others' opinions.
Let yourself enjoy the process. Enjoy the successes and failures and worry about the Pulitzer later.
Write, get it out.
But don't leave it there. What you write may be brilliant, it may be terrible, but at least you have produced work, and you will learn from it regardless of its quality. The next step is to make something of it, to polish that bit of metal and see if it truly is gold.