Getting it Down

Posted: May 13, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Pen in hand, or fingers poised over keys, or a dictaphone in your hand–however the heck you intend to produce–it’s time to get writing!  What’s a perfect first word, first line, you wonder to yourself.  You strike ten iterations of an opening.  STOP!  First rule of Fight Club, er, Getting it Down:

THERE IS NO “PERFECT” ON THE FIRST DRAFT

Seriously.  Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  Think you’re better than him?  I thought I was after getting the first draft of my book down.  Then, I went back to do the first edit and I was like, “Man, this is shit.”  Misspellings, flat characters, wordiness, inconsistencies in the story.  Two drafts later, still shit, but maybe not as stinky.  Here’s the point, to return to our home building analogy–the first draft is just your foundation!  You need to get it down, get it pretty close to correct, but it ain’t gonna be pretty, and people ain’t gonna see it.

Need another reason to avoid “perfection” on the first draft?  You’ll kill the story if you agonize over every word, placement of punctuation, and other tedium at this point.  That leads to the second rule of Getting it Down:

DON’T KILL YOUR INNER MUSE

Huh?  Inner muse?  The most beautiful part of writing a story is when the story writes itself!  Basketball players score 60 points in a game.  Baseball players hit four homers in nine innings.  Hockey players score Ovechtricks.  We creatures of mental athleticism (I had to build us up a little!) can get into the “flow” too.  When your eyes are closed, and your fingers glide over the keyboard typing words that you see as action in your head–that’s your flow.  When your head is inches away from the paper you are writing on, and you see nothing by word after word trail your pen–that’s your flow.  Where this comes from, don’t ask me.  No need to get philosophical.  But, it’s beautiful, gorgeous, momentous.  It’s the reason I write.  The muse is your anti-gremlin, and you will kill it if you try to be perfect.

Still don’t believe me?  You’re a tough sell, but so many of us crave control and perfection in what we produce that it’s understandable.  Third rule of Getting it Down coming right up:

THE CHARACTERS WRITE A GREAT STORY, NOT YOU

“But, but but, I write my stories.  They’re MY characters.”  Yes, my friend, sure.  They’re yours. Try to control them and see what you end up producing.  Crap!  It’s better to consider your characters like Sims Gone Wild.  You can set up their appearance, and give them little pats on the tush in certain directions, but please, please, let them do their own thing!  This has been a little amorphous, so let’s get more specific.  When you flow, when you are simply a conduit through which your story gets put down on paper, the characters drive the story themselves.  Countless times my characters said, “No, sir, we’re gonna do this!”  And, it was crazy and scary and I said to them it wasn’t gonna work–but then it did.  Not only did it work, but it fit them.  Maybe not me, but who cares if it fits the author?

Okay, you’ve gotten out of your own way.  You’re flowing like Michael Jordan in the 1992-1993 playoffs.  Time for the fourth and last rule of Getting it Down:

NO PAIN, NO GAIN

Writing is work.  Anyone that tells you differently is lying.  Now, you can enjoy your work.  Nothing wrong with that, and hopefully that’s why most of us are writing.  But, it’s work.  And, you need to dedicate yourself to that principle.  Set a daily goal for number of words written and stick to it no matter what.  750 words a day is a breeze, and in 100 days you’ll have a manuscript.  I can’t emphasize sticking to your regime enough.

The process is exactly like working out.  Getting started is the hardest part.  Once you get rolling though, once you start seeing results, I promise you’ll be addicted.  A personal example will show you how easy it is to get out of your regime.  When my wife and I were in Peru, believe it or not, I was putting down about 1000-1500 words per day.  There was something about being on vacation, basically detached from the constraints and demands of everyday life in the US, that helped my productivity.  Got back to the US on October 15, 2010, and didn’t write meaningfully on my second book until March 2011.

What happened?  Work built up so much that there was no time to fit in writing.  (Read, excuse).  The holidays sapped a bunch of time.  (Read, another excuse).  I would start writing again as a New Year’s resolution.  (Yep, another one!).  And, that’s how your productivity can go down the drain faster than a half full glass of water.  Same thing happens if you skip a week of working out.  Bottom line, writing is work, and like anything work related, writing takes discipline.  Commit yourself to a daily word count that you can achieve, and do not skip your daily goal for any reason!

All right!  Foundation is in, you’re grinding away at your ultimate goal for a word count, and you’ve got a proverbial six-pack of writing going.  What’s next?  Start to Make It Look Pretty.  Some framing and drywall for you construction types!

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Comments
  1. Delores M. says:

    Great post! Writing is work. It is helpful to hear that others have had the same difficulties that I had with my first draft.

  2. derekblass says:

    Thanks for the comment HR!

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