I fell right out of a healthy sleep pattern with last night’s excursion into the early hours there. Oops. On the plus side, the actual writing itself continues to go a lot better, and I found one character who I hadn’t quite fleshed out enough in HOF who I feel is now the staple to build HOF and NHO around. I could also find ways to use foreshadowing to make this person into a core figure across all three stories, but I think I need to sit on that idea for a long time. That makes me want to explain in a little more detail why I let my first drafts be so mediocre with a big focus on the rewrite, so long post incoming.
I’ve used variants on a phrase a lot on this blog that I preach to just about everyone: ‘The first draft is always bad’. It’s a mantra of sorts more than a hard and fast fact. My partner for example does a lot of ASMR script writing under the handle Esme Jones, and if you’ve listened to their scripts, you can see that a first draft isn’t always bad, and in fact in these cases is brilliant. That owes itself to my xirlfriend’s skill with words, but it’s also testament to a nuance my ‘mantra’ misses out on. It might be better to say: ‘The first draft of any large project is bad.’
But why is it bad? Well, there’s a few reasons, and some are dependant on the person. An honourable mention is ‘perfection doesn’t exist’, but we’re not saying imperfect. ‘Bad’ is a strong word choice, but I intend to justify it, and explain why it’s a good thing too. Another honourable mention is for me in specific, but a recommendation I would give to other writers: ‘Don’t get it right get it written’. Getting it out of your head if you’re anything like me makes it much easier to get the thoughts in the right order, and that leads in nicely to a few more, universal reasons.
You will get some things in the wrong order. It’s not so much that you might get beats out of place, though that can easily happen or you might cut a whole story beat and move something else to take its place. It’s more you may decide that if you reword the reactions, Z, then X then Y sounds better. That’s pretty normal I find, as you often won’t find the first take makes every event you include flow in the most natural way. In my slow rewrite of The Unreachable Star I have so far ended up moving some scenes as many as ten thousand words away from where they started.
You will fall in love with a new character. When I first wrote The Spectrum Sings in 2014, I quite liked Kim Sharp as a side character, and figured ‘hey, she makes these couple of scenes she’s in memorable. Then I reread it. Kim now has her own trilogy. So yeah, naturally, I wanted to ensure she got enough billing in TSS that a reader would go ‘Hey she’s back!’ when they saw a new story. That necessitates a restructuring of the book, because not doing so would be super bad as an introduction unless I were to say, rewrite the story from her perspective, perhaps as a slice of life of her time at university. Hint, hint, possible future project.
You will realise some ideas are gibberish. This is especially true of 2am+ writing. If you’re writing for a target, then on bad days you will put out prose that just, doesn’t pass on a second attempt. Worse, you won’t even realise it’s gibberish until you’ve not looked at it for long enough that your brain doesn’t patch over the gaps. I call this ‘Phantom Plot Caulk’. And for the love of god you don’t want to have any PPC filling all the gaps in a final draft because as soon as anyone else looks at the story, that stuff vanishes. When you come back later, it will vanish for you too, and you can shove actual caulk into those gaps. Or, take a sledgehammer to it and take a second attempt.
You will have new ideas. It is hard to overstate this one. I count it as separate from falling in love with a character because they can happen independent of one another, though in an ideal world this happening alongside the former makes life a whole lot easier. I’ve heard it said ‘write more than you need to make editing easier’, and that seems to hold true, but it’s not a magic bullet to prevent more writing on a rewrite. You will need to add content, even if it’s just to replace gibberish you remove, but a lot of times you’ll get hit by the ‘ooooo what if…’ bug. I guess a professional writer would tell you to be cautious of that, but I don’t care about professionalism, I’m just having fun, so imma add to my heart’s content. But this does lead into…
There will be a lot you don’t need. Another common advice, one I and just about any writer will vouch for, is ‘Kill your darlings’. However, I find a lot of advice on how to do this is clinical and bad, usually from empathy deficient brick walls who think they know what they’re doing, but don’t realise giving writing advice is 5% real talk, 95% moral support. In fact I often see it squarely reversed. If you have to cut stuff, and you do have to if you want to make it work, just paste it into a new Google Doc and keep it for another story, to write an alt timeline for fun or just so you don’t lose the thing you enjoyed. I cannot stress enough, Never, Delete, Anything. Cut it, but keep it. Be a pack rat. Have you seen how much memory a Word or Text doc takes up on a memory stick? If you must, shove it on a couple of those and put it out of mind if it’s too painful to see it listed in your Google Docs. Or on Trello. In fact I might do an article one day on using Trello for editing.
So my point is, there will be a lot you’ll want to change in hindsight, and a lot you can’t see until you have distance. That means what you write won’t be the best it can be. With a shorter piece, it’s easier to do a refined edit in one go, because you don’t stay with that prose long enough to form a bond to it a lot of the time. If you’re the kind of person who does, then that’s ok too, just apply your own version of the above. And that’s maybe my best advice: This does not apply to you. No advice does, not unless it’s been written with you specifically in mind, and even then, even if you wrote it, it might not be right. It’s almost as if advice, much like writing, needs you to look back and re-evaluate from time to time.
…Damn that’s a good ending. Ngl.