Saturday, April 18, 2015

First Draft Manifesto

Writing a novel isn’t as simple as it seems. You should know what you’re getting yourself into when you sit down to write a first draft, and so I give you . . .

Principle #1: Divorce Your Art From Perfectionism

Just write what you're thinking.

I know. Sounds too easy, right? Like I'm making up a fake truth to fool you so that your writing will fail, and then I'll swoop in with mine and make millions (cue evil laughter). Nope. Nothing like that at all. Here's the deal . . . When you put too much effort into finding the right words, your creativity gets bunched up, bogging you down. Sometimes even stopping you. That's bad, folks. Newsflash: you don't have to have the most psychedelic words strung out across the page like a hippie on acid. You only need to have words. Period. They don't have to be perfect. Not yet. That's what editing is for.

Principle #2: Step Off the Cliff

There's a certain amount of bravado involved in penning a first draft. How much? Gobs. No, really. I measured. It takes guts to expose the story in your head for all the world to see, but don’t hyperventilate. The beauty of a first draft is that no one but yourself need see it. So go ahead. Take a deep breath. Then expel every crazy word idea swirling around in your skull.

Go rogue. Allow your characters to take risks with their actions. Snark up the dialogue, letting it shoot off into conversations you never dreamed possible. Give your plot permission to take a sharp left turn or even mow down into the ditch for some off-roading.

Your writing will never change or grow if you don't vary the way you write. If you usually write in third person, do a scene in first, just for the heck of it. You don't have to keep it that way, but in the exercise, you might find a new perspective in which to stage that scene. Flail around a bit with structure, like writing only dialogue for an entire chapter. Quit rolling your eyes. Of course you'll go back later and add in setting and descriptions.

First drafts are the safest place to experiment and stretch the boundaries of your usual writing norm. If you were waiting for permission, here it is. Go for it.

Don't tuck tail and run . . . persevere!
Principle #3: Endure to Infinity and Beyond

The idea of writing a novel is oh-so-much more romantic than actually parking your heinie in a chair and pounding out words. After a day or two of actual writing, the ninety-nine percent will tuck tail and run, whimpering about writer's cramp or block or something about a clogged artery in the posterior region.

The only way to finish a first draft is to . . . umm . . . **excessive throat clearing** FINISH THE DANG THING! Yes, I'm yelling. There's no easy way out except through, and that takes endurance.

So keep plugging away, word after word. Eventually you will give birth to a pound-and-a-half baby manuscript, putting you in the ranks of those with a complete novel to their credit instead of a loser talking smack about writing one.

Principle #4: Think like a pirate.

There are lots of things to admire about pirates, as long as you overlook their rank body odor and the fact that they slit throats and rob people. The piratey trait with the most takeaway value for a writer is that pirates aren't married to rules and regulations. Sure, they've got a code to follow, but in the words of Captain Barbossa . . .

When you set sail on the ocean of first draft, you have a destination in mind. There's a plan lurking about in your grey matter, a map for you to follow from beginning to end. If you're really a planner, you've even got a synopsis written and know exactly how the story will flow from chapter to chapter.

But if you come up with a better idea halfway through, it's okay to change directions. Sure, your story might not turn out how you expected, but that's okay. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to stay a certain course that you're not willing to explore a different direction story-wise. Some of the best creativity happens when least expected.

Principle #5: Carpe Diem

Besides mindlessly zipping from one blog to another or checking out updates on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, how about you sieze today, right now, and type out a few words of your story idea?

Creators create. Yeah, God took a day off but guess what? That was AFTER he finished. Don’t let today slip by without carving out time to splatter some words on a page. I’m not saying they have to be stellar. They just have to be. Don’t tell me you’re going to write a book. Do it. Do it now.

What? You’re still here?

Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT is a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know how to take their writing to the next level.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find out about upcoming new releases at her blog, Writer Off the Leash, or stop by her website. You can also find her at the usual haunts of Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.