I will admit that occasionally when it comes to my writing, I don’t get everything right the first time around. This is known as the shoddy first draft. No writer in the history of writing gets everything right the first time around. If such a writer does happen to exist, they sure as hell haven’t shared the secret on the web. That and they also cannot possibly be around every time I accidently hit the wrong key on the keyboard, usually the vowels, and it’s not picked up by spellchecker because technically I have spelt a real word if not the one I’d intended to spell. If humans can’t programme computers to help write the perfect first draft, then it simply doesn’t exist.
For the longest time in my writing career I was an isolated writer. I wrote stories, normally in my free time in school. I remember once being sat alone writing in a classroom while the England football team were playing in some important match or other in the Football World Cup, while everyone else sat in the common room because the teachers had arranged a special session near the end of the school year for everyone to watch the game. I opted out and finished the first draft of the first novel I ever attempted to write. England lost, and I was too happy to care (not that I was very bothered in the first place anyway, but that’s beside the point). This was in the days before Facebook, Twitter and all the guys in the band came and gathered the writing world together in social media. The minuteI joined up though and began to take writing more seriously and looked at platforms to launch myself from, the first bit of solid unwavering advice I got was about the fact you can’t always get it right. It still shocks me now that I thought I had got it right all those years ago.
That first draft I finished in my geography classroom is on loose paper and is truly, utterly very shoddy; it doesn’t make me any less proud of the fact I finished it, even though I doubt I will ever make it into a proper novel one day. The complexity of my fantasy compositions have developed beyond those characters and that story; quite frankly so have the audience. The issues I deal with in my books now are not just about getting the characters from A to B, I have tangents in my character development, and the current rewriting of my novel is testimony to the fact tangents can make characters more interesting especially in the long run. As an epic fantasy writer this is very important, but as I’ve been finding out it isn’t any easier to write despite having a great deal more practice since those school days.
However, I’ve been recently working long shifts doing event catering, and I’ve had a lot of time stood on my feet trying not to think about the fact I felt as if my feet were going to fall off in the pain. Other than thinking about my MA dissertation that I’m outlining and writing in the next month, I’ve let my mind wander into my own fantasy world, especially about the fact I’m not convinced that I have done the right thing.
There, holding my hands up and admitting I’ve gone wrong. This is certainly not the first draft of the novel (far bloody from it), but I still get what I call ‘the twitch’ every now and then in the back of my mind. Even through I am writing about a completely different world, where social rules and norms are different from ours, and are so for fundamental reasons, every now and then something just does not feel right.
It usually starts when I’ve finished writing what I wasn’t convinced was right for the novel in the first place but I decided to try it anyway: sometimes it works spectacularly well, and then those other times…well I’m sure you can imagine. The twitch in the back of my mind gets worse when I realise I don’t know how to write the very next scene after I’ve done something that doesn’t feel right. Then instead of attempting to move forwards I move backwards in the novel and rewrite scenes to justify and set up the action that I’m not convinced should happen in the first place. For me this can take a few attempts, and instead of justifying the action, I end up ruining previous scenes and beautiful moments in an attempt to ensure I don’t surprise my reader in a few pages time.
When that happens, my gut instinct that something is wrong kicks me out of trying to justify it and instead think about how to fix it. In the particular case that’s been bothering me for the last week or so I can surprise the reader, but not because the two characters in question do something, but rather, it works better for the book and the long term that they surprise everyone in my little world and in the real world that they choose not to do something. It requires no set up (thank goodness for track changes and back up copies to re-fix my justifications) and I now know how to write the next scene. All it required was to let myself lean up against a wall in a ladies toilet and zone out for a few moments to realise that, one I had a problem, and two it was really very easy to fix, especially if I just stopped being stubborn for a second and listen to my gut instinct.
It is not always that easy, but that is what the shoddy first draft is there to help you do sometimes. It helps you to learn how ‘not’ to write your novels. Learning to admit you got it wrong though is a lot harder to learn and develop, but if you let ‘the twitch’ in the back of your mind guide you to realising something is wrong, then it makes it a lot easier to accept that you are not a perfect writer.
And if you are that perfect writer the first time, each and every time, come on already and let the rest of us in on the secret.