Here it is. There is a piece of fiction I have committed myself to write. I struggle. Yes, I know, every writer struggles, that’s what it is to be a writer. But why struggle?
This particular piece of writing I refer to is a short piece of fiction. The brief in the beginning is to produce a first draft to be reviewed by peers with a view, following peer review and critique, to polishing and finally having it published, with luck, in an anthology.
What is a first draft for?
The common wisdom seems to be that a first draft is an outpouring of ideas into something of a beginning-to-end narrative, without too much analysis and over-judgement. Just get it down, and as they say in the film industry, fix it in post – in the case of writing, ‘post’ is the second and subsequent drafts.
Then why struggle with it?
Everyone is different. Some will plough through with a plan and when the piece is done, throw it out to whomever will review it, then do whatever is needed to redeem it, phoenix-like, from the ashes of its own funeral pyre.
Others, and I am one of these, want to have it sufficiently polished to be less of an embarrassment when it is read. Something like when you’re a teenager and you throw on some clothes and your mother stops you and says, “You’re not going out in that are you?”. Or when you engage a cleaner for a particular day then spend the entire day before tidying up because you don’t want the cleaner to think you’re untidy.
Which is better?
In theory, the first I suppose, but life is not theory, life is messy and minds, especially the minds of certain writers – my hand is up for this – struggle with a sort of need for perfection.
You can read all about how other, very accomplished, writers go through many drafts before their work reaches a point at which they feel comfortable to set it free. You know, no not kind of but you know, that if you are a halfway decent writer you should be able to nail it on the first draft. And you know you’re wrong in thinking it. But, it doesn’t stop you thinking it.
What is the solution? Is there a solution?
I don’t believe there is one solution at all. Because everyone is different and has a different way of working and thinking, you just need to find the way that works best for you. I can only speak for me.
This is about first drafts though.
If the purpose of a peer-driven critique is to find holes then, with a first draft, holes the size of a harbour tunnel will be found and highlighted. But isn’t that a good thing? Perhaps it goes back to the basic insecurity that most writers feel. “What is they think this is the best I can do?” “What if they think I’m no good at this?” “What if the others did much better than me?”
What is my solution?
The first draft I have finished is rough. If it was a diamond you would have your work cut out to see it shine in the end. But shine it will, the part of me that isn’t shouting “stop fooling yourself” knows that it will shine in the end.
So, this is my plan, this is the mechanics of the thing.
I know the story is roughly what it will eventually be. I will print it out, read it through, makes notes on the paper, then fix the most embarrassing bits, and submit it for the critique to come.
As it is a critique between peers we will all be bringing our hopes and insecurities, carefully masked behind smiles and pleasant banter, while all the while we may all be quaking and hoping the knives do not cut too deeply into the beloved offspring that our imaginations have produced.
Is it always like this? I don’t know, this is my first go at this.
Like anything in life, what happens will happen. It’s a first draft after all.