Confining the Mess
One way or the other, I will be starting Novel Number Two (Henceforth referred to here at NN2) in the near future. I’ve discussed the possibility of using Nanowrimo to get a head start on it before. I’m closer to making that decision now, (I have to be, November is getting closer every day.) I’m leaning towards doing it. But even if I don’t do it, starting this next novel won’t be far off from this moment.
Whatever road I take on the first draft of NN2, a few things are for certain:
1)I won’t be editing the first draft until after it’s completed and left alone for at least a month. That could be next spring or later.
2) The first draft will in many ways be lousy. As are all first drafts.
My hope, and my plan, however, is for this first draft to contain less that is lousy, than did the first draft of Flowers for Dionysus. Every first draft may be shit, but that doesn’t mean each successive first draft can’t have less shit than the previous one did.
Look, a rough draft is always going to be, well, rough. But having written at least a first draft of a novel several times now, (There have been others. Flowers for Dionysus is just the first one I opted to take further), a few things have started to sink in. When I outlined the first half of NN2 earlier this year, I was already keeping in mind the type of things that were either cut or changed most frequently from the first draft of Flowers. What I put down for the first draft of a novel may be sloppy compared to the final version, and it will probably have scenes I don’t need. But I pride myself on comparably good first drafts.
You see, my first drafts, if I may compliment myself, tend to be equal to the quality of most writers’ third draft or so. I won’t engage in hubris and say any of my first drafts are publishable, but from the stand point of story structure and general prose, I have a bit of a leg up in most first drafts. So much do I think about, experiment, outline and ponder a manuscript in my head before I put down the first official word, a lot of clean up has already taken place. A “mental draft” if you will. I still do a lot of pantsing once I start the rough draft, but a large amount of planning has already gone into the piece before I begin.
Given the amount of planning and thought I give to a manuscript before I start, I avoid a lot of common first draft pitfalls. The pitfalls I do fall in, I catch in the revisions. So on top of all of this pre-planning, I’m expecting myself to avoid pitfalls I fell into the last time. I insist that I learn something from the process. And I think that I have. So if I fold that gained knowledge into the NN2 first draft, I should be able to avoid more pitfalls now than last time. Right?
That’s my hope, anyway. As much as I agree with Hemingway, and all of the other people who insist the first draft is the worst, I can’t help but desire to minimize the mess I leave behind in subsequent first drafts of future manuscripts.
Sometimes being sloppy on purpose is what we need to get to the bottom of a plot point. Great literary discoveries can be made when we let ourselves be messy, and I don’t intend to deprive myself of that experience. (That’s the main reason I adopted a “no-edit” policy on first drafts as I am writing them.) I simply hope to keep the mess confined to one room, as it were.
Then again, every novel is different, and all of these hopes expressed here may fly right out of the proverbial window by chapter two of the rough draft.