Other writers often encourage me to pound out a first draft and worry about making it pretty later. I've always resisted. How could I start a new chapter until satisfied with the old one? Besides, polishing my prose as I went along would surely save me months of editing later. Right?
Wrong. It took me six years to compose a complete draft of The Oak Lovers. Yes, I switched genres two years in and had to start over. Yes, I had small children home during much of that time. Even so, six years is a long time to spend on any one project. After I typed “the end” a few critique partners brought up minor issues, easily fixed, and encouraged me to send that puppy out already. Others had reservations. What were my characters’ main goals? Was my story arc perhaps a little too subtle? And the climax - where was that exactly?
I listened selectively, made some changes, and sent off queries too soon. Rejections followed. Some agents offered the same advice I hadn't wanted to hear from critique partners. Some sent form letters. Some never responded at all.
Long story short: I was far from done. Worse, had I built a frame for my story before tacking on the siding, most of the “darlings” I had to murder during revisions would never have been born.
While I wait for replies to my current submissions, I've started an entirely new project. Outlines are not the
I intend to post the following rules beside my desk as a reminder that it’s okay for a first draft to be a steaming pile of literary excrement. I share them here in case any of our readers also tend to flounder in editing hell.
1) If descriptions of clothing, meals and rooms don’t write themselves with minimal effort, they do not belong in draft one. Make a note and move on.
2) It’s unnecessary to stop writing in order to spend days researching photographs and first-hand accounts of, say, traveling on the Erie Canal. Well-researched nuggets can be plugged into draft 64.
3) Let excessive adverbs or ‘ing’ words live for now. Exterminate them when the manuscript is ready to be evaluated by a fresh set of eyes.
4) Don’t feed the editing addiction. Wait until draft two or three is complete before sharing the novel with anyone.
5) Highlight any possible anachronisms. Check etymology later. Move on.
6) It is okay to tell instead of show in draft one. If the window is not yet in place, it doesn't matter if the curtains are velvet or fashioned from old petticoats.
7) Don’t waste months writing a pretty subplot only to have to cut it later. Know where the story is going.
8) Laundry can be folded when the kids are home. Any sudden urges to do dishes or clean the bathroom should be resisted. You, ma’am, are a procrastinator, not a neat freak! Keep your butt in the chair.
9) While your butt is in the chair, your eyes should be on your manuscript, not on Facebook or Twitter. If you can’t resist temptation, install self-control software.
10) Ignore patches of reeking prose. Remember what wise Professor Thomas said all those years ago. “If you throw enough mud at a fence, some of it is bound to stick.” Keep throwing mud.
Have you given yourself permission to suck, yet? Are there other rules I should add to my list? Please share what works for you.