My friend Charlie, who co-runs the Six Month Novel Programme, has a mantra for the writers she helps. When writing a first draft, give yourself permission to be "gloriously craptastic". The most important thing is to get the words down on the page. You can edit later. Because, if you get caught up in doubts, or a desire for unattainable perfection, you’ll never get through it. It’s better to have a flawed thing that exists than a shining masterpiece that only lives in your head.
She’s right, of course. But sometimes, taking this approach is easier said than done. At the moment, I’m struggling a bit with the first draft of my second novel. I have a publisher interested in the first one, which is very exciting, and I’ve just sent the latest version of that back to them for a final decision.
In the meantime, I’m aiming to complete the first draft of the next one by the end of July, as per the Six Month Novel Programme schedule. But it’s dragging. It’s going to be way too short to be called a novel. The middle section is very saggy. The characters have no idea what they’re doing and I have no idea how to get them to the end. And the ending I have planned feels like a cop-out. I’m treading water, putting down words I don’t think are very good, just to be able to tick a few more scenes off on my checklist.
I have so many other things I’d rather be working on. And I’m using the (vital) need for self-care as an excuse not to write.
But, while I may not want to write this novel at the moment, I do want it to be written. And the only way that’s going to happen is if I grit my teeth and get the hell on with it. Once the first draft is done, there will be a month of editing boot camp, and I’ll send the first 3000 words off to Amie (Charlie’s partner in crime) for an editorial review. I have a concrete plan for what happens after that. I’ll take a break from the novel, work on other things and then come back to it towards the end of the year. I’ll apply the editing guidance and Amie’s feedback to the rest of the manuscript, and then ask Amie to do a developmental edit of the whole thing. Then I’ll take another break, and schedule coming back to it to apply the further feedback early next year.
So, the path is clear. The steps are known. Once I get over the hump and finish the first draft, I can employ external help to figure out what to do with this story. But I have to get the first draft done first. And the only person who can do that is me. So I’d better stop writing blog entries and reviews and get back to it!
But what if it’s no good? It’s a first draft - it’s not going to be good. But at least it’ll be there, and I can make it better.