The First Draft


Brain Barf ~ Yes you can polish crap…

Mythbusters smashed this out of the park, explaining that you certainly can polish crap.

Onto writerly things…

What this has to do with my editing process may have you a little baffled, rest assured there is some correlation.

Usually, first drafts of manuscripts (be they novel, short story, poetry, whatever) are full of imperfect content which, if we’re being honest here, can sometimes be likened to crap. The first draft is usually where we, as creators, throw our mental thoughts out into the arena and swirl them around to see how they form.

If you, like me, struggle to turn off your inner editor when creating, this first draft can be a bitch! This will become more apparent as you see my usual editing process over the coming posts, but in a way I think it does make my first, painstakingly created draft a little more cohesive in areas and probably less so in others. I think, I’m more inclined to keep specific sentences or only change a few words instead of culling whole paragraphs because I spend so long finding the right word or as close to it as I can before committing to it, but because the process is so painful, I think I become more attatched to certain sentences or word choices. Breaking that emotional bond is important at this stage.

So when it comes to cracking out the red pen, often I have to get others to look at it first. This helps me to see a different perspective on my writing up front and by using their comments I start processing the writing in a more critical and less emotional manner – sometimes this does smart a little if they really don’t like a section I do, but you do get over it as you learn to trust those who offer you editing support.

Love to my favourite editing helpers source: http://flic.kr/p/6XhqqC

Love to my favourite editing helpers
source: http://flic.kr/p/6XhqqC

I usually have a few special people who get to see my unedited, hideous, gangly first draft pieces of writing. They offer me various comments spanning all aspects of editing and while each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses as editors, between them I think I get a varied and fairly complete opinion. They range in age, sex, reading genre preference, education (formal or informal), some of them don’t write and some of them are published authors.

After collating their thoughts and suggestions I grab my red pen and set about ripping into my work.

One thing I am especially conscious of is tense, I have a very bad habit of mixing them in a piece of writing, even in the same sentence. This is usually the first thing I try to address.

In the piece that I’ve posted below, you’ll see the original draft was in past tense for the most part, which made the action seem old, not immediate and didn’t draw in the reader as much. That needed to be changed.

With that in mind I set to editing. Here’s how I went.

Original vs Version 1 ~ click on the image to see the full size.

Original vs Version 1 ~ click on the image to see the full size.

So, in the image the most glaringly obvious change is from past tense to present tense. I know as I progressed through the entirety of the document (approx 2000 words at that stage) I failed it pick up all of the changes in tense, but I certainly wouldn’t submit V1 to anyone. The yellow highlights show some of the additions I put in to add more detail and, as my teacher keeps telling me, use concrete nouns to make the words work for me. The red in the original document indicates where I’ve deleted words that I felt were not needed or perhaps could be incorporated in a different way down the track.

word count:

The original: 576

Version 1: 569

Where do we go from here…

This is just the first step towards a much more complete and exciting story (well I think so anyway). I’m working more on line editing rather than big picture mainly because these 2000 words are being submitted to my teacher for assessment, but as this is part of a larger piece (as can be seen in my side bar over there ->) the over arching themes are not as prominent in my editing at the moment. Stay tuned for more editing fun in the coming weeks.

How do you start editing? Do you share your raw work with people or do you go over it with a fine-toothed comb before letting it into the public arena?

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6 thoughts on “The First Draft

  1. I’m not happy to show anyone mine until the third draft!

    • Third draft hey? So you self edit the first two. Do you leave it alone for a day or two before editing Tony?

      • If it’s a novel, I’ll leave for it a bit longer than that…about 6 weeks between draft one and two! If it’s a short story, no more than 24 hrs. I usually print it out and then edit again until I’m happy with it.

  2. I have difficulty not fixing issues as I write so sometimes briefly edit as I write the first draft; I am getting less obsessive about perfect spelling &c. in drafts though.

    Once I have a draft I print it out and read it through marking up bits I do not like, but trying not to actually re-write them. I then go back to the e-copy and start drafting changes to make a second draft.

    Depending on how happy I am with the second draft, I might share it at that point or edit again before sharing.

    • It is amazing what new things you can pick up by printing the document out or changing the medium in which you are viewing it. I think it is probably the most effective editing tool in a writers arsenal.

      So you’re a second or third draft sharer Dave, I think for me it does depend on the piece of writing in question, but as a general rule I seem to be quite happy to share first drafts (warts and all!)

      • I suspect it will vary from person to person; holding back on sharing until I have edited at least once is one of the steps I currently need to write a first draft without getting tied up in minutiae.

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