Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Brain Freeze or Bee Dodging: Observations on First Drafts (July Theme - Sarah Dooley)

There’s an art to eating ice cream. Or maybe it’s a science. I don’t know which, because, whatever it is, I haven’t mastered it yet, in spite of years of practice.

Eat too fast and you get the screaming, writhing, grind-the-heels-of-your-hands-into-your-eye-sockets headache that makes you want to swear off ice cream forever (until it’s time for the next bite). Eat too slowly and your hands get sticky with sludgy rivers of melted dairy, and then your beautiful day at the park turns into an exercise in dodging opportunistic bees.

This relates to writing how? Well, I don’t have to tell you. You know.

Everybody writes at a different pace, but it’s taken me a long time to sort out which type of first draft works for me. Write too fast and I get the screaming, writhing, grind-my-teeth-into-powder plot gaps that make me want to swear off writing forever (until it’s time for the next first page). And I say this as someone who has participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2005. I love fast drafting. I love writing my first draft in a crazy, mad flurry of flying fingers on clattering keys. I love giving myself permission to create something messy and unfinished and imperfect, to solve plot holes with placeholders like “FIX THIS LATER” and to name six different characters “Sally” and sort them all out in draft three or four.

What I don’t like is looking, a few months down the road, at what a mess I’ve made, and wondering how in this world I’m going to fix it by my deadline.

So sometimes, just to see if I can, I try to write slowly. I try to plot and plan and outline, to think things through before I write them down. I try, at the very least, to give each character her own distinct name from the outset.

I let things melt.

What I’ve found, though, is if I write too slowly, my passion for the project melts away, and what started as a beautiful day of story-weaving turns into an exercise in dodging opportunistic feelings of self-doubt. And that’s when the little recycle bin icon on my desktop goes from empty to “Do you want to delete this 4 items? … 6 items? … 12 items?”  and three hours later, I’m still on page one.

Everybody has their own way of writing a novel, and I don’t know what mine is, because I sure haven’t mastered it yet. I only know that when the weather’s right and the craving hits, I’m not going to let art or science or anything else stop me from the sweetness of creating something new.


  1. Delightful variation on this super-fun ice cream theme!

  2. Love the line "I let things melt." So delicious...

  3. I love the idea of changing the way you write your first draft--especially the speeding up idea. Those feelings of self-doubt are always trying to nudge themselves in, and I like the idea of not giving them any time!