The Worst Part of Writing is the Writing

So first drafts. I hate them. See you next week.

…just kidding! But this is one Debutante Ball topic where I’m especially interested in seeing what my fellow Debs have to say. First drafts freak me the fuck out, so I’m hoping for some sage wisdom from these smart and talented ladies I’m lucky enough to be working with.

I am the kind of person who likes things neat and orderly. I love to alphabetize. I organize closets for fun. My labelmaker is one of my most prized possessions. If I had the money, my apartment would look like a goddamn Container Store.

And so, it may not surprise you to learn that my favorite part of writing is revising. I could spend forever tweaking each word so it’s just right. My partner will testify to the near-religious ecstasy that overtook me while I was reviewing Temper copyedits, but really I love all kinds of edits. Developmental edits, line edits, proofreading – bring it on, my body is ready.

Unfortunately for me, in order to revise, first I have to write something. And it’s always a struggle. I’m trying to write a first draft right now, and it’s the worst. It was hard when I wrote Temper too, but it’s almost harder now, after revising my debut novel until every detail gleams, to go back to mucking around in my own fresh word vomit. Every day I feel like giving up, but I know I just have to keep slogging through so I can get to the good part – the part where I have raw material to revise.

Here are some of my tips for getting the dreaded first draft done:

  • Set daily word count goals – pretend every month you’re drafting is National Novel Writing Month. Just crank that shit out as fast as possible. Doesn’t have to be good, just has to be words.
  • Get yourself an alpha reader – an alpha reader is like a beta reader, but instead of reading your polished draft and offering you thoughtful feedback, they read the trash draft you just spewed out chapter by chapter and send you their immediate responses (hopefully including enough cheerleading to make you want to keep going – shout-out to my alpha reader Hannah Whitten, who is the actual best at this).
  • Outline first so you have some idea what’s going to happen – this one can be a double-edged sword, at least for me. I’m a total plotter, I love beat sheets, and if I can lay the whole thing out in a color-coded Excel spreadsheet, all the better. But sometimes when I outline too much, it ends up choking off my creativity. I stare at my glorious outline and think, the book will never live up to this, what the hell am I doing. And then I spend an hour (or a week…) on Twitter and don’t write a word.
  • Write in a different format – I’ve found that I can trick myself into drafting mode if I write in a weird quasi-screenplay format instead of regular prose. That’s how I wrote the first draft of Temper: rambly descriptions of settings and actions plus dialogue tagged with each character’s name. This makes for a painful second draft, when I have to actually put everything into the voices of my POV characters, but at least the foundation of the story is there.
  • Don’t get distracted by shiny new ideas – this is the one I’m the worst at. I tend to get to a certain point in the drafting process and then get a new idea, which seems like it will be so easy because it’s still this idealized thing in my head. I have to keep reminding myself that if I let myself work on the Shiny New Thing, it will soon become a Frustrating Messy Thing just like the thing I’m working on now.

If any Deb Ball readers have helpful tips for first drafts, I’d love to hear them! Drop your knowledge in the comments. (Please.)

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Layne Fargo

Layne Fargo has Master’s degrees in theater and library science, which seem slightly less useless now that she writes very dramatic books. She’s a Pitch Wars mentor and a member of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime. Layne lives in Chicago with her partner and their pets. Her debut, TEMPER, will be published by Scout Press in the summer of 2019.

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