I’m not one to make many sweeping proclamations. Anything I write about here always comes with a sense of, “This is just what works for me, and if it helps others: great!”
Like any kind of advice, writing advice can be a hit for some and a miss for others.
One thing I see touted as a universal truth right up there with, “You must read to be a writer!” (which I subscribe to), is “All first drafts suck!” (Which I do not subscribe to.)
That’s a Lot of Words
Writers can argue about what constitutes a novel instead of a novella, but even if we all agree anything over 50,000 words is a novel, that’s a hefty bit of writing. And, obviously, some sections of those first 50,000 words will need to be tightened — if not completely changed.
But there are writers who don’t believe the first draft must be a race to a word count. And I believe some of the writers who say that, while they definitely polish things, the first draft that goes down is largely the completed draft.
My latest novel, A Magic Life, is one such book. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have over 100 notes in Word saying, “Make better!” but the structure and actions remained unchanged. I polished dialogue and smoothed over what I was getting at in places, but the first draft of A Magic Life hardly sucked.
A Matter of Pace
Perhaps those things that go down well the first time around are subject to pace. For me, I like giving things time to be worked around many ways in my head before committing to writing. (At least with novels — short stories can be another thing entirely for me.) For others, they put down words in a mad frenzy and then take it all apart and rebuild (often, multiple times). I’m not so bold to say my next book will go down as smoothly as my latest.
The Next Book
There’s at least one more book in the life of the protagonist in A Magic Life. And it’s possible, especially if I don’t take as much time writing the second book, that some things will be changed around — that the first draft will “suck.” (I don’t deal in many absolutes, especially where writing is concerned.)
Of course, it’s also possible that it will go down smoothly. (With discipline, confidence, and proficiency, writing does get easier in many ways.)
Sometimes the Magic Works…
As a kid, one of my favorite moves was Little Big Man.
In one of the final scenes, Chief Dan George’s character, Old Lodge Skins, declares, “It is a good day to die,” and ascends a hill in preparation for his end. Instead of dying, though, rain comes and he finds himself alive.
He tells Dustin Hoffman’s character, Jack Crabb (Little Big Man), “Well, sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Writing can be like that, with some works going down as if by magic, and others…not so much.