I’ve known people who’d labor over the first draft of a piece of writing to such a degree that they were defeated before they knew it. They were so excruciatingly meticulous in the early stages that they’d dread sitting down for another round of writing.
If that weren’t enough, they’d have that first draft planned out to the point where there wasn’t a lot of room for creativity to work its magic. The predictable result: that first draft wouldn’t be the inspired piece of work it might have been – or it might never even be completed.
I try to limit planning before I begin writing to what’s necessary to get the project underway. I may have only a key character or two in mind, an opening situation to fuel interest in the character or characters, and a sense of the conflict to follow.
Almost any setting can work, and when I think I’ve hit on the right combination … once I’ve got just enough to start the engine … that’s the time to start writing. Too many writers, unfortunately, miss that magical moment to begin – they wait for more and the engine stalls – and what could have been an enjoyable experience turns out to be a chore.
Just get it on paper. That’s my philosophy when it comes to writing a first draft. Let the characters lead you, the writer, not vice versa. When I write a first draft I don’t want my characters on leashes. I want them to develop minds of their own; after all, what makes writing a first draft so enjoyable is the unpredictability of it all.
Of course, I have an idea where the characters will go and how they’ll react in certain situations – just as I have an idea what a neighbor or colleague might do in a certain situation – but if my characters end up going in directions I didn’t foresee, so much the better. If I have a strong feeling they’ve made a wrong turn, we’ll have plenty of opportunity to work that out in the second draft.
That pretty much epitomizes the different approaches I take to working on first and second drafts. Anything from the second draft on … well, that’s the time to fret, to chop, to labor, to sculpt, to polish … and it can be torture. The first draft allows a writer to be creative. When I’m working on a first draft – though I’ll sketch details and take notes about where I think the story is going – I try not to look in any great detail more than a chapter or two ahead.
Similarly, I try not to look back in an overly critical way at what I’ve already written. Even polishing the previous day’s writing is out of the question. Just get it on paper. Write out the first draft, however it turns out. Enjoy the process; don’t let it torture you. There’ll be plenty of torture later.
Steven Verrier, born in the United States and raised in Canada, has spent much of his adult life living and traveling abroad. Publications include Plan B (Saga Books, 2010), Tough Love, Tender Heart (Saga Books, 2008), Raising a Child to be Bilingual and Bicultural (Hira-Tai Books of Japan), and several short dramatic works (Brooklyn Publishers, USA). Currently he is living with his wife, Motoko, and their five children in San Antonio, Texas.
You can visit his website at StevenVerrier.com