To jumpstart the process I spent a week at Weymouth Writer’s Center – which is also the haunted mansion I used in my poltergeist thriller The Unseen – with my magical writer’s group, the Weymouth 7. (You can read more and see photos on my Pinterest board, my new favorite distraction!)
Weymouth – and our group – did its magic, as always; I went into the manor with no idea whatsoever what that sequel would be about and came back from that one-week retreat with a 23-page sequence-by-sequence outline of the new book, start to finish.
So now I am in the throes of my least favorite part of the writing process, to put it mildly, and that’s the first horrific bash-through draft.
Because I come from theater, I think of my first draft as a blocking draft. When you direct a play, the first rehearsals are for blocking – which means simply getting the actors up on their feet and moving them through the whole play on the stage so everyone can see and feel and understand the whole shape of it. That’s what a first draft is to me. As you all know, I outline extensively, index cards, story structure grid, all of it. Then when I start to write a first draft I just bash through it from beginning to end. It’s the most grueling part of writing a book (the suspense writer Mary Higgins Clark called it “clawing through a mountain of concrete with my bare hands...”) and takes the longest, but writing the whole thing out, even in the most sketchy way, from start to finish, is the best way I know to actually guarantee that I will finish a book or a script.
I do five pages a day minimum, more is gravy. I write the page count down in a calendar every day. And I never, ever, think about how much is left to go, I just get through those pages one day at a time, however I can. I think of myself as a shark – if I don’t keep moving, I’ll die. (What I would really like is for someone to put me to sleep for three months so I could just wake up when the bash through draft is DONE. I would pay a lot of money for that.)
And I’ve written about this before, here, but as far as I’m concerned the only thing a first draft has to do is get to the end. (Your First Draft is Always Going to Suck).
But then everything after that initial draft is frosting – it’s seven million times easier for me to rewrite than to get something onto a blank page.
After that first draft I do layer after layer after layer – different drafts for suspense, for character, sensory drafts, emotional drafts – each concentrating on a different aspect that I want to hone in the story – until the clock runs out and I have to turn the whole thing in.
I may be totally wrong about this, but I’ve had a lot of contact with a lot of writers over the years, and I would unofficially guess that the ratio of writers who grimly bash through that first draft to THE END without revision to the writers who polish along the way is about 90 percent bashers to 10 percent polishers. A recent Facebook discussion I started seemed to back up those percentages. I might even go as high as 95-5.
Yet the interesting thing is, a lot of writers are surprised to hear that other people besides themselves use this “bash your way through to the end” approach. So I thought I’d bring it up today just in case this is news to some of you, so you can consider it. It might just set you free.
So what about you? Basher or polisher? Do you swim sharklike through that first draft to the end, or when you write THE END, are you actually done?
Have you ever tried doing it another way? How’d that work for you?
Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.
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- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)
- Barnes & Noble/Nook
- Amazon UK
- Amazon DE