Anywho, last week I promised a WIFYR post, and here it is. Yay!
During WIFYR I was in the fabulous Martine Leavitt's class. I learned a lot, but one of the best things for me was a discussion on drafts. She mentioned that Cynthia Leitich Smith writes her first draft then destroys it--as in gone. Deleted. Poof.
If you don't believe me, read it in Cynthia's own words:
“I do this drastic thing... that freaks out my graduate students. When I'm finished with the first draft, I print it, read it once, throw away the hard copy, delete the file, and delete trash. Knowing as I go in that the draft is for my eyes only, that I'm not committed to it, frees me up to experiment. It gives me an opportunity to explore the characters and their world. I figure the best, strongest aspects of the character and story will survive when I write the second first draft.”Check out more about Cynthia at her website.
—Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith
from the Faerie Drink Review.
Now, those of you out there who aren't writers might not understand how drastic this sounds. I'm not one of Cynthia's students, but the idea is still freaking me out. Writing a draft is like giving birth, but harder. And yes, I can see you out there shaking your heads, but I've done both, so I KNOW. It takes about as long as a pregnancy for me to complete a draft from conception to delivery, and there is a lot of pain and joy involved.
The thought of taking all that work and effort and love and throwing it away feels like murder, or at least the kind of craziness they lock people away for. But the more I think about it, the more it starts to make sense. Sort of.
Martine doesn't throw away her whole book, but she does write the first one hundred pages and then trashes those. She said that by then she's done most of her experimenting and has figured out the main character's voice, objects of desire, and all the good stuff, and she knows where the story really starts. Then she can write the real first draft without all the exploration.
A hundred pages may still sound like a lot, but I've chucked more than that before on projects because I didn't like the direction the book was taking. And do you know what, I didn't miss those pages when I rewrote them, because the best and most important things did survive. And it freed me up to really revise.
That brings me back to WIFYR. Both Martine and Heather Dixon talked about making revising become a true revision, as in re-envisioning the project to make it the best story it can be. You can't do that if you're married to your first draft. Why? Because first drafts stuck. They're supposed to. The first draft is when you give yourself permission to write crap and just get the story out there. If you hoard those words you spewed out, it's like trying to turn vomit into fine cuisine. I guess it's possible, but maybe that's why it took so many drafts for my first book to be readable. It takes a long time to transform raw spewage into yum.
Maybe it would be better to trash the gross stuff and start with fresh ingredients. The menu would be the same, but the result would be so much better, wouldn't it?
Now, I'm not saying I'm ready to compost my whole first draft on my current project, but I am saying I'm willing to completely re-envision it. Maybe my dark elf might end up as an alien, or maybe I'll scrap my whole magic system and come up with something new, and I'm even willing to say goodbye to my favorite lines of dialog. Ouch. But it's like Martine says, "You will get other great ideas, and they will be better every time."
What do you think? Would you have the heart and guts to delete your whole book and start from scratch? How about if you don't write, does this fit in with your own creative endeavors? Can destruction actually help creation? I really want to hear your thoughts.