Writer’s Craft #8: How Much to Craft the Draft?
Writer Kristin Janz (http://www.kristinjanz.com/) wonders whether it’s better to write a first draft as quickly as possible, without thinking about revision until you’ve reached an ending point, or whether it’s better to painstakingly get each paragraph and scene as right as possible the first time.
“I’ve experimented with extreme examples of each style, and I’m not sure I can say which method produced better results for me,” says Janz. “I think the more careful, slow initial draft method may have actually been less work in the long run.” With the quick draft method, she wrote a lot fast but it took more time cutting it down. For instance, the first draft of Janz’s story “The Year of the Bear” was going to contain a section that began as follows.
“The door to Brownie’s stall still needs fixing.”
Brennan took another pull from his mug of warm milk before answering. He liked his milk best this way, fresh from the cow, the rich cream only beginning to separate, but Tira complained that warm milk made her gag. She complained an awful lot, these days.
Janz says, “There are many problems with this (‘Another pull from his mug’? What was I thinking?). But the most serious problem is that, in a 7500-word story, there isn’t space to ramble on about how Brennan prefers his milk. We probably don’t need to know their cow’s name, either.”
Fortunately, Janz recognized after about 300 words of this that the scene was going nowhere, and threw it out. The fight between Brennan and Tira was introduced later in the story where it would have more impact, Brennan now drinks mead instead of milk (since he’s a beekeeper and Tira the daughter of a brewer), and instead of describing the taste of the mead, the story uses Brennan’s excessive drinking as another source of conflict between the two.
“When I was writing ‘The Kiss of the Blood-Red Pomegranate’,” Janz says, “I had similar scenes that I knew weren’t going anywhere, but I forced myself to write my way back to the main thread of the story rather than cutting my losses and starting a scene over. This gave me an initial first draft of 18,000 words, and many 800- and 900-word passages that I had to cut out to bring the story below 10,000, resulting in loose plot threads that I then had to tie. The original first draft of ‘The Year of the Bear’ was only 9000 words, and the revision wasn’t nearly as much work.”
Both approaches did result in publishable stories for Janz. “The Year of the Bear” was published in the January 2010 issue of Allegory, and is currently available under Free Fiction on the author’s website. “The Kiss of the Blood-Red Pomegranate” has been accepted for publication in Aoife’s Kiss.
Personally, I took 20 years to write my first novel (Throne Price) and I wrote about six books worth in the process. I now write a novel in about 8 months and come in close to the required 100,000 words in the first draft. But I also recall being unable to write in “draft” mode for months after finishing the final edits on Throne Price and needing to give myself permission to risk blathering on a bit in order to charge up my engines.
How about you? What’s your experience?