Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Liking It Rough - Drafts, I Mean (What Did You Think I Meant?)

Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters. -- Neil Gaiman
I've had a lot of good writing days lately. Within the last two months I've written around 100,000 words.

Of course all of it is rough draft. That means I put all the terrible "was" verbs and "ly" adverbs in that I want, not stopping to fine-tune, knowing that when editing time rolls around, all of them will get taken out, replaced, revised, and shined up pretty.

There's a certain freedom in letting your fingers write whatever they want without the need to make everything "beautiful." Yesterday I was sitting at an outdoor cafe table with my laptop open and thought to myself--"I hope no one looks over my shoulder and thinks this is what my writing is like." Because rough drafts aren't meant to be read.

Rough drafts are where the flood of words sluice out onto the page, spilling willy-nilly, washing phrases onto dangling participle cliffs, and dialogue eddies curl into themselves, devoid of description and speaker identification.

Rough drafts are where the raw image is cast on the cave wall and you scramble to outline the form because you know--you know--that the light's about to be turned off and you'll be left in the dark again.

Rough drafts are those unformed monsters made of poorly sculpted clay that nonetheless stump around all over the page leaving footprints that are smeared and barely recognizable as ideas.

And you know what? I love them.

I love them for their potential.

--Like a rock that's been run through a tumbler until it shines.

--Like an old blackened tea set that you scrub until the silver gleams through.

--Like a brass elephant that looks brown until you polish it to a butter yellow.

Rough drafts are those stories waiting to be shined and scrubbed and polished.

I've met some authors who only do one draft. They are more than happy to send their tales out into the world in the same tatty overcoat they shoved it into. But to be fair, maybe they shove their stories into tuxedos. Maybe their first drafts are beautiful. Maybe they are more practiced or knowledgeable and they don't need to see their story again to confirm that it is indeed the one they meant to tell.

But I think they're missing something. They're missing that wonderful moment when you see the glint of a diamond underneath the mud--that moment when you clean away all the extra, unnecessary words and find the gem, the written picture that is exactly what you wanted to say.

That's a glorious moment.

So how do you feel about rough drafts? Love them? Hate them?


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