September 14, 2013

Writing Tip: The First Draft is The Foundation

I went to a gallery event last night, admiring the work of Bill Bartelt and his students of watercolor; drinking wine, eating cheese and sausage, schmoozing with the artists. When one found out I was a writer and had a published book she told me that at one time she wanted to be a writer. She said she wrote two books that were terrible and so she decided to move on to other things. She became an architect, and she creates beautiful art.
There's a misconception that if you write a book and no one wants it, that means you're not a good writer. So not true. It only means you haven't finished. Wouldn't it be wonderful if writing a novel were as simple as sitting down, putting words on paper, doing maybe one revision, it's totally awesome, we send it off and the next stop is the New York Times Best Seller List?
Okay, disregard that guy without the shirt
I wish.
I told this woman (Meredith is her name) that the difference between a writer and a published author is that the author didn't quit. I told her it took me eight years to write/revise, write/revise, write/revise (you get the idea) my first book before I finished it (actually, I thought I'd finished it long before that but when I sent it out to various agents they disagreed).
The first draft is not a finished product, not for J.K. Rowling, not for James Patterson, not for me and not for you. The first draft is the foundation of a house, nothing more. It supports everything else but it's just the beginning. Once the foundation is laid then you add the studs and the walls and the floors and the windows and the roof  and the plumbing and the electrical, and then you paint and wallpaper and lay hardwood floors and install crown molding and put in granite countertops...and all that takes time, but that's what makes it beautiful. That's what makes it something you can live in.
By the time Meredith and I ended our conversation she thought she might dust off those manuscripts and take another look. I hope she does. She's written two books, for chrissakes, which is an amazing accomplishment.
About a month ago I sent my second novel to my agent. It was the first draft, written beginning to end, with one revision, and I felt good about it. Did I think it was perfect? Hell no, but I thought it was damn good.
My agent didn't quite agree. It's not that she thought it was bad - it's just unfinished. She said the writing's good and I have the chops to pull it together, and she spent a lot of time going through it and making suggestions and telling me what she thought needed help.
I feel immeasurably lucky to have someone like that; someone who's in my corner and who has a vested interest in making it "awesome." She said in the old days there used to be an adage, "Seven drafts to final." Well, I sincerely hope it doesn't take that many, but whatever it takes, it takes. I want it to be the best it can be.
I've got the foundation poured - now on to making it something I, and my readers, can live in.
Excuse me while I get back to draft number two.

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