First Draft

Writer sits down to write the first draft. Leans in too close to the computer screen. Removes glasses to be sure everything remains blurry, always just a little bit out of focus.

It is time to escape the tyranny of ten thousand great novels with their confident, purposeful prose. Strong, clear narrative from the architecture of so many perfectly-placed words. And the characters who always seem to know what they are doing and say exactly the right thing for the maximum emotional effect. And they are beautiful, well-formed people with carefully considered flaws. And even their conflicts are beautiful. And though they seem to struggle mightily as they rise through the miserable complication, they always manage to smile and wave to you as they crest the crisis point and descend joyously down through the denouement.

But this is not yet that kind of story. This is the first draft. The people are hideous and half-made. They amble about in a state of constant delirium, saying useless, thoughtless things. They are not entirely purposeful nor intent on any specific course of action. At times, these poor unmade creatures seem drunk, slightly deranged. At other times, they appear and disappear with supernatural ease, constantly teleporting themselves without reason or explanation across space and time.

“Wasn’t she recently standing over there?” the writer asks himself. “Didn’t she tell him this thing three times already? Why are they eating breakfast when only a paragraph ago they were enjoying lunch?”

None of this matters. This is the first draft. Let the people go where they will go, say what they will say, kiss whomever they please. Let them revel in the joyous anarchy of life without set narrative. Celebrate with them the chaos and incoherence while you can. But keep them moving. Always moving, talking and doing. There will be a point to all of it. There will be sense to be made. A story to be told. It won’t be the story you thought you were writing. It will be something better, if you allow it to find you. If you let the first draft be what it is, a swirling universe, rippling with potential.

Don’t just write. Unleash the first draft, and it will show you the way. And then, piece by piece, begin the other drafts. Build that stately house, that well-tended lawn, that exquisite garden. Give your characters the story they deserve, where no action is wasted, every word has consequence and everyone and everything belongs.

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