pond in a snowy wood

Of course something is wrong with your first draft

… I keep telling myself this, but it’s not entirely helping.

The new book is going well. Really it is. But I’ve got that itchy-all-over-in-my-brain feeling that writing the first draft of a new book gives me. It’s partly because it’s a weird business, splitting your time between two entirely different worlds – especially when one intrudes with a phonecall about your breakdown cover renewal just as someone’s telling you their deepest, darkest secret in the other. Very disconcerting.

So there’s that. And the urge to finish, finish, finish, finish, FINISH before I lose my marbles completely and start believing I am my main character (ah, the perils of the first person perspective).

But then there’s the fact that there are Major Things Wrong with what I’m writing. Of course there are. It’s a first draft. That’s what first drafts are for. Actually, as first drafts go this one’s pretty good (for me, at any rate). But a good first draft is never going to be a good book. Well, not unless there’s really something very, very wrong with you (and I say that with no trace of jealousy at the very *idea* that someone could write a stunning first draft – if you can, please don’t tell me). On the plus side, even if there are people who can, most of us can’t and don’t. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that the best writing is re-writing (as EB White apparently did) but rewriting is what makes a first draft into a good book (unless you’re weird and creepy, in which case go away or at least pretend you write problematic first drafts too).

I’m at that difficult point in a draft where I don’t know if the itchy feelings are so intense because I’ve made a mistake that I’d be better off going back and fixing now or if it’s just that I’m feeling resistant about something. I am a bit struck at the moment, so it could just be the ‘I don’t wanna! It’s too hard! I hate writing and I want chocolate and cake and probably alcohol’ thing.

It seems to me that being a writer means that you sometimes hate everything you love most about writing. It’s just how it is. The fact that you can’t help writing, even when you hate it, is what tells you that you love it more.  I think that’s one of the big differences between people who like to write and people who do it for a living: if you do it for a living, you have to admit that you love it and hate it simultaneously but there’s more love than hate so you’d better get on with your next page before you get miserable because you’re not writing and writing is the most wonderful (awful) thing ever <pause for breath>.

And that’s the other thing that itchy feeling is: that ‘love/hate, why do I do this to myself? I could have been a stockbroker, for Gawdsake!’ thing. (No, I couldn’t but all writers have delirious moments when they think anything must be better than writing… which is not to knock stockbrokers, or not entirely, but some of us can and some of us can’t be strockbrokers. I’m not sure any of us have to though, unlike with writing.)

If you make the hideously stupid career choice to write as at least part of how you make your living, it’s generally because you don’t feel like you can be happy otherwise. And, frankly, you won’t be happy quite a lot anyway. For most of us, there’s a huge amount of rejection even apart from the frustration and fury of writing itself. But there you go. In the midst of the awfulness of the first draft, as I gnash my teeth and consider wailing, I can’t wait to write the next bit. I’m just afraid that the itchy feeling is telling me it’s going to be rubbish… But I’m going to go and write it anyway.

Is anyone else in the same first-draft boat? Any recommendations (for chocolate and biscuits to try, if not for getting past it?)

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4 comments

  1. I can relate to everything in this post! I try to push through the itchy feeling until the feeling changes to one of accomplishment – ie when I’ve written more than I could imagine back when I was doubting myself and what I’d previously written.

    1. There’s nothing like a decent word count to help things seem brighter! (PS: I *love* your ‘Thinker’ snowman. Brilliant! Just the laugh I needed as I plunge back into my current epic tussle with teenage protagonist who isn’t talking to me.)

  2. Yep, this definitely rings a bell with me too. There’s a lovely quote about writing mainly being done with “the scissors, rather than the pen”. I think this nicely sums up the importance of a good pruning (I actually really enjoy the cutting aspect, feels weirdly therapeutic, like I’m decluttering my house!)

    I’m sure the book will be great, however frustrating the first draft is. Still can’t wait to read your first one though, let alone the second!

    1. Ditto about the book-reading! 🙂

      I so envy your ability to enjoy cutting. I hate it. I hate it so much I have a file especially from everything I cut out so I don’t feel like I’m tossing aside all the hard work. I almost never delve back into these files, but they make me feel better so… I’m hoping this book ends up being a little short on the first draft so that most of my editing will be adding rather than cutting! That’s how it worked for TBD and I enjoyed it *so* much more than any other manuscript I’d worked on.

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