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Status Update #8: First Drafts are Shit

October 27, 2010

I think it was Hemingway who said that first drafts are shit.  I’m too lazy to go look it up, so let’s just go with it.  Sometimes I think my first drafts are OK.  And quite a few times I think they are shit.

I just finished the first draft for Chet Finley vs. The Machines of Fate, and I think this is one that falls into the shit category.  I don’t think the story itself is shit and probably not even most of my writing is shit–by my standards–but I think it’s the kind of story that will definitely need a second draft sometime in the future.

Probably the biggest reason for this is I just didn’t think I really got a grasp of the characters until somewhere in the middle of the story.  Actually the backstory for Sadie the shapeshifting assassin is still kind of murky.  That’s something to be ironed out in a second draft.  I think by the end I have sort of an idea of all the characters, but it would need me to go back and retroactively apply this knowledge.

Sometimes people say they write by the seat of their pants because they want to let the characters dictate the story and so forth.  I actually used an outline for this, but I think the outline was just determining the WHAT, and not the WHO.  In other words, it dictated the plot but it didn’t really dictate the characters, so I kind of felt my way along with that.

If you looked at the last couple blog entries I posted random sex-tions of the story.  I didn’t really intend to do this, but as the story ground along, I realized that it was becoming like a much-raunchier version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”  And I’m OK with that.  I’m a guy who watches “South Park” and “Family Guy” and just rented “Get Carter” (the original, which I guess was rated X back in the day) and “Bad Lieutenant” (also the original which is listed as NC-17 now) so obviously I like me some raunch.  Why try and hide that?  I say play that up.  There’s my marketing hook:  it’s like “Hitchhiker’s Guide” for people who like “South Park” and “Family Guy.”  Come on, I’m an American and if there’s one thing Americans like it’s jokes dealing with pooh, farts, and sex.  USA!  USA!

Another thing with this first draft is that I’d really like to do a second draft where I’m fresh and not feeling a bit burnt out from a lot of writing over the summer/fall and wanting to squeeze in a few more projects before the end of the year.  In other words, I’d like to write a draft where I really give a crap about it.  A second draft is a better time for that because in cases like this, the first draft you’re just sorting everything out, sort of drawing up the blueprints.  Then the second draft is when you actually go and build the house for real.

Ideally I’d position this for late winter or early spring, after I’ve taken a little time off from writing, as I have a tendency to do in the winter.  This is because I can’t go outside to write unless we get one of those weird January’s where it’s 70 degrees and everyone’s wearing shorts.  I think that happens about one every 20 years in Michigan.  Anyway, I just counted that since I wound down this blog last June, I’ve written about 485,000 words.  485,000!  How many is fucking War & Peace?  So, yeah, maybe I didn’t do so well on this because I was hitting a wall mentally and creatively.  Or not.

If you ever look at the Rogue Mutt Archives, a lot of those stories are first drafts.  Some are sort of 1.5 drafts in that I might have edited them a bit but didn’t actually go to the trouble of a full second draft.  It’s really only been in the last couple of years where I started doing more second drafts.  Where You Belong is actually the second draft of that story.  The first draft was called “No Matter Who You Are” after a Bob Seger song and while it plays out the same there are some big differences.  Like it’s written in 3rd person.  And there’s a lot more on Frost/Frankie/Frank’s childhood in Midway–actually too much, which was something I changed for the second draft.

Though to date nothing I’ve written has more drafts than this.  The first draft was definitely shit.  It was the kind where like this I finished it and said, “Boy that wasn’t good.”  (Only with more cursing.)  As I recall there were plot holes and stuff that just didn’t work.  So I definitely needed a second draft.  Taking a cue from WYB I tried writing this in first person by using a semi-omniscient ghost narrator.  But that didn’t work.  With a story like that you really need 3rd person to switch between characters.  Anyway, then I wrote a graphic novel treatment of it, which I chronicled here.   So that was kind of a 3rd draft.  Later I rewrote some but not all of the graphic novel treatment, so that was the third-and-a-half rewrite.

Just to make sure we get over 500,000 words for the year (not really, but isn’t that cool?) I’m doing what would be the fourth-and-a-half rewrite.  Or this would be the third draft of the regular novel version.  This is to pull in some stuff from the graphic novel and apply some retroactive continuity from the rest of the series.

I should be able to write this pretty easily because I’ve done it so many times already.  Then I just want to patch up the rest of the series and we’ll be done for most of the winter, except maybe some editing.

Then I can go back to writing some more shitty first and second drafts.

That is all…for now.

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