Thursday, February 18, 2016

How to Write a Perfect First Draft

by Tracee Sioux

Many writers never start writing because they are afraid of even putting a word on the paper. They get so angsty that they don't even open a doc to start.

Don't be intimidated by your own craft. That's silly. It's also ruining all of your pleasure.

The real issue is fear of criticism. And believe me, it has prevented me from publishing completed works. I have an entire manuscript on my desktop that's been waiting for publication for 5 years. I'm still getting up the nerve.

I've also avoided  writing works I feel compelled to write due to their controversial or sexual nature. What will the community think? God, what if my brother reads it?

My own personal fear is of Mean Girls on the Internet. This obviously stems from the tortures of junior high school. But the fact is that I've been the subject of Internet attacks. I once wrote a blog post about Jon & Kate Gosslin and their young twins + infant sextuplets. In truth, I wrote it in passing, didn't give it much thought. I expected like 20 people to read it.

Then the flurry started. Thousands of comments blew up overnight and went on for months. The comments deeply affected me. The feminists thought she should go back to work to support all those children—or that she shouldn't have had sextuplets at all. The conservatives thought she should stay home and raise the kids herself—but also that she was a really bad mom. It was the Mommy Wars on this blog and I was overwhelmed and shocked by the emotional energy—so fierce and biting—that women had about other mothers' choices.

I am a work-at-home mom and this potent energetic response from my readers tapped into my own insecurity about my own mothering choices. And I found the judgement—mother against mother—utterly shocking. It was apparent that no matter what choice a woman or a mother makes there is no way to please everyone and escape harsh criticism.

I literally wanted to pull the covers over my head in the fetal position in the face of this kind of criticism. It was traumatizing. And I didn't know how to handle it.

If this is a possibility—and it is a very real possibility when you have the guts to put yourself out there—how does anyone write anything of value without losing their nerve?

Here's how:

Write every single word as if you're the only one who will ever see it. 

I've always journaled, even as a child, and this is how those of us who express our hard and weird feelings and thoughts can do it: We keep it private. We show it to no one. We don't expect when we're writing it that it is for anyone else's consumption.

That's how you should write everything from a blog post about pipe fittings to your deepest darkest thoughts and experiences as I did in my book The Year of YES! which was my very raw and personal diary which I kept to chronicle the experiment of saying YES! to everything my Soul told me to do for one year. Of course, by now a decade into online writing, I've grown a thicker skin and learned not to pay attention to reviews and comments.

Write for yourself and only yourself. Sit down and allow whatever wants to be said to be expressed fully and without inhibition. 

After all, it's only a first draft. Other drafts will come after it. But if you want the work to be authentic and good, the first draft should be an "anything goes" piece.

Whether that draft is good or bad, it will be one thing: written.


Deborah Nielsen said...

Good advice, Tracee.

Although, I guess I've never been afraid of controversy. In college, I did three feature articles for the college newspaper; the first on abortion-the right to choose, the second on date rape. That was back in the late 1970s. Both subjects are still mired in controversy.

My fear today? Writing a good fiction story. I don't usually write fiction. I've had a short story started for two years. It's a very rough first draft. But I do have it started. And I've done some research to flesh it out but somehow I never get around to going back to it. So maybe if I just think I'm the only one who's ever going to read it, I can finish it, including coming up with decent dialogue. Non-fiction doesn't have dialogue.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I work so hard to keep controversial topics off my blog and off social media because I'm very afraid of something like that happening. I can just imagine how you felt.

I like this approach to writing a first draft because it frees the mind to say anything and go anywhere without fear. What we do during the revisions, though, dictates whether we dare send the manuscript out to readers and/or agents and editors...or stash it where no one will find it (like the shredder).

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