Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Do You Need to File for Divorce?

The problem was that my revision was not a revision. I was unable to move from that initial vision of my [story]. For all its flaws, I was in love with my first draft and couldn't bring myself to file for divorce.
~ Bruce Ballenger



In Discovering the Writer Within, Ballenger suggests two ways to make it easier to "break up with" our first drafts:
  • Write it fast. The longer we toil over it, the more likely we are to fall into its grip. For all its flaws, a fast draft can have a spontaneity and freshness that is missing from a carefully constructed one. And partly because of its obvious weaknesses, it's easier to revise.
  • Attack it physically. The first time I attempted the cut-and-paste method of revision, it seemed heretical to take a pair of scissors and chop my carefully composed prose into pieces. I was still hung up on the sanctity of the typed page. But once it was disassembled, I was able to forget how tight I was with the draft - it was gone - and it was much easier to focus on the pieces that showed promise.
The most difficult thing for me when revising Scott and the Naughty Boy Factory was cutting some of my favorite sections from the first draft. There were chunks I loved - really loved - that needed to go in order to make way for stronger material.

But doing what is necessary always pays off - we get a better story in the end. It felt good to discover that I wasn't alone - most writers suffer from first draft separation anxiety. Ballenger describes it perfectly:
Like spurning a lover, there is still some pain involved in letting go. But from the wreckage of the first draft, a new essay emerges that is more satisfying, more whole, and more willing to share its meaning with me and my readers.
Don't be afraid to divorce the first draft. There is an even better one waiting for you!

Do you have trouble divorcing yourself from your first draft, or are you eager to rip into it and make those changes?

44 comments:

KarenG said...

Divorce! What a great way to look at it! Yes, can't wait to divorce that awful piece of well, anyway you get my point.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I've called the attorney, so to speak. I'm ready to make it a story that others want to read and connect to.

Theresa Milstein said...

As a beginning writer, I had a harder time, thinking each word was dipped in gold. Stephen King said take a break from a rough draft for three weeks. Then it's like your words are cousins instead of children. Easier to kill your cousins, I guess.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Write it fast.

I like that.

Jen said...

You nailed it!!! I wrote fast for the first draft, not looking behind, but then I got stuck, I'm still stuck and I couldn't get out... then after reaading this I realized I wasn't willing to get a divorce, to let it go and move on, re-write it to get something better, tear it to shreds in order to get the good parts great!

Thanks Shannon! Great inspiration!

Kelly Lyman said...

Oh my! THis was great! I never thought of using the word divorce with writing/revising! I had a very hard time with revising my first draft. I felt as though I wasn't being true to my original idea/characters when I cut and revised. But, now, if I need to cut, I just do it. I don't really dwell on it anymore. Three weeks ago I decided to change my story almost completely. I totally rewrote from the beginning. This was hard, but I did it. I'm now five chapters away from being finished (for the 2nd time!).

Falen said...

i had to cut my prologue (for the usual obvious reasons) and that made me kind of sad. It had some very nice parts

Vicki Rocho said...

Nope, we're just living together! hahahah.

Great analogy though!

Palindrome said...

I'm eager to rip into it. I hope once I'm finished that I will be able to look it at as a whole and actually know what to do, as far as editing goes. I know in my head how I want it all to end and play out but you never really know how it is until it's on paper sitting in front of you and you're holding that purple editing pen.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You had me with the post title! Great way to approach it. I found NaNoWriMo taught me to write fast,not edit as I go and that freed up the story. Another tip I got was to start the second draft as a new document, not just revise in the old one. That way it's easier to let go of sections that don't work. Great post, Shannon!

Eric W. Trant said...

I always start new drafts as new documents. Sometimes I delete the whole thing, sometimes I keep the whole thing.

If I delete something I still think works, I'll cut it back in later.


- Eric

storyqueen said...

I am finding that as opposed to cutting stuff....I am having to add more....because when I am writing a first draft and it isn't flowing, I just don't write that particular scene. I'll just write a note to myself in the middle of the draft and highlight it: "I am not sure how the characters get from A to B, but I am going on with B now because I am bored."

Eventually, I have to go back and figure stuff out.

Shelley

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

So this was me yesterday. Well I've been holding on real tight to the first draft because there were two chapters I was not willing to give up. I went 'round in circles trying to keep them in the new draft, I had to file for seperation if you will. Then I came to the divorce yesterday and gave in on my custody battle over those two chapters and lost them. So now I am free to start dating my story again. I even changed the perspective. Both MC's are their I just chose to write from the other's POV. So a lot changed. So weird you posted this cause this was me yesterday giving up those chapters to finally be able to move forward :)

JustineDell said...

You're fired first draft! Er...I mean divorced!

Excellent post!!! I wish I would have known this sooner. ;-)

~JD

Michelle Gregory said...

i never thought of the distance i have to put between myself and my first draft as divorce, but it seems that it applies. and i do hate to get rid of those lovely scenes that go nowhere. (guess that's why i keep them all in a separate file - i never get rid of anything i write.)

btw, if you have a darling you hated to get rid of and still have it somewhere on your hard drive, you can share it with us in my upcoming blogfest. (now did that sound like a shameless plug? i suppose it did.)

Elana Johnson said...

With my first few projects, this was hard for me. As I've realized how I work (write fast first draft, remove myself, rewrite -- basically from scratch), it's become much easier to delete what isn't working. Much easier.

Though there are still some scenes I love, and I beg to keep them. So far, so good... but I'll be getting edits this week, so anything could go. Yikes!

Jackee said...

So the advice I need! I do have a hard time separating from the first draft. And I found myself nodding as you said the longer it takes to let go of the draft, the harder it was to get it revised. It was a real problem with the first book I ever wrote. Three years later I let go! :o)

Christina Lee said...

Yeah... DIVORCE!! I love re-writing and revsions so much more so this is not that difficult for me!

K. Harrington said...

I love the idea of breaking up with first drafts. Ha Ha! I always think of a first draft as a discovery draft that lets me know what I think I want to say. Most of it gets pared away in the writing process.

Jamie D. said...

I'm not attached. In fact, by the time I finish my draft, I'm more than ready to set the thing aside because I'm tired of looking at it. LOL That applies even for NaNo drafts finished in a month - it's hard for me to stay interested even in my own story once I know how it ends.

Revisions are different, because instead of focusing on the story, I'm focusing on technical details...whole different frame of mind for me.

Excellent advice, as usual. :-)

Tahereh said...

this is such excellent advice. i love your posts.

thank you!

Bane of Anubis said...

Ditto what Tahereh said. I'm definitely in the camp of spending loads of time on my first draft.

Susanne Drazic said...

Interesting blog post. Never thought of divorcing my first draft. Lots of interesting comments shared.

Catherine A. Winn said...

It's hard and usually I try everything else first, then I take the drastic divorce action. Funny--it's always better and I wind up wishing I hadn't wasted time trying to save that section.

Candyland said...

I'd say both. There are things I can't let go of, but I'm pretty open to revise and make it better.

We're like that one divorced couple that obvs still has feelings for each other, but can't be in the same room together.

It's complicated.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't mind tearing into it. With the last one, I think I added as much as I cut.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Dude--I'm on draft 16! I think I might set the record for most divorces ever. Eat your heart out Liz Taylor. :)

Solvang Sherrie said...

Love this analogy :)

Heather said...

As harsh as this sounds, that's exactly how I write. I pump out the first draft then attack it as if I were the aquisition editor, not the author. It works out really well!

CMOM Productions said...

What a great way to explain it! :)

Julie Musil said...

Some of it I'm ok with slicing and dicing away. Some things I wish I could keep, but I can't. I do save it in another file for later, though. Just in case!

I have something for you at my blog!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I don't get married to scenes persay, but to the idea of how I think some plot point or character should be. I've had to revamp the beginning of HATSHEPSUT so many times and one of the side effects was that a character had to do a complete 180. That was really hard for me to swallow- I liked him better the other way!

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm getting better at this. It's not an easy thing to learn - I feel disloyal :)

Jamie Grey said...

I'm dealing with this in my current revision! And I'm actually trying the slice and dice method. I find it's helping a lot! Great quotes!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Out of sight. Out of mind. That is why it helps to walk away from your first draft for a bit. Start work on the next novel for a week or so.

Then, go back to your first draft. Read the first chapter aloud. You'll hear flaws. In fact, in revising it is wise to read each chapter aloud to yourself as if to a good friend hearing it for the first time. You'll spot flaws then.

And you'll rush to polish them away. It works for me.

Thanks for leaving such a nice comment on my blog, Roland

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I love the write quickly bit. I need to do a better jo at that. I toil over an idea, jot down notes and slowly write scene by scene. (I'm doing my first novel...) The largest piece I wrote before was about 20,000 words. It know is two seperate pieces. I had another story that was about 4,000 words and is now 1400. That was hard, but the story is so much better now. I think giving myself a word count after I write the story works for me. Then I can cut until it is a tighter better story.

Tracy said...

I'm not usually a big fan of divorce (think of the children!), but in this case, I'm all for it. :)

Karen Lange said...

A little of both. I want to get to the best finished part:)

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Shannon, here's something a wise author told me early on in my writing journey when I was having trouble parting with an initial draft. She said, "You can always come back to the first one. It will still be there." Funny how the mind works. Thinking of it this way freed me to mess with the manuscript, and what an improvement. Yes, the other draft still did exist, but I'd moved on. Like an old boyfriend, though, you can always look back and think, "Well, he had some good qualities about him, but he just wasn't my type in the end." :)

Heather Zundel said...

I'm weird, but I love to pick apart my first draft. But somehow it always holds a very special place in my heart, riddled with plot holes and a plethora of other problems as it may be.

Michelle said...

Yes yes! I found it hard until I did NaNoWriMo last year. I wrote fast and no find it easier to pull appart!

Raquel Byrnes said...

I print it out, slash it up, and start in a new document with cutting and pasting via Word and my hard copy.

It is a nasty, messy, often confusing process...but its the only way I know how.

Patti Lacy said...

This was a brilliant article that I may copy myself.

Wow.

My agent makes it, um, essential re the divorce from Draft one. There is no arguing with her. And that's a good thing, at least for a stubborn thing like me.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I have to have distance from that loverly first draft before I can do a proper edit. More distance=easier time.

"write it fast" - I love that! ;)

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