Sunday, April 3, 2011

Abysmal Writing

I've had an epiphany. I've always known it (at least since I started getting serious about novel writing anyway), but it was only a few days ago that it actually clicked. And it is based on this quote:

"First get it written, then get it right."

I can't remember who said them, but these are words of wisdom. The idea is that when you write a first draft, you write it as quickly as you can. You just get the story out. You don't worry about spelling or grammar or using the same word a million times in one chapter or anything. You just write. And if, when you come to the end of the first draft, you find that the story is utterly appalling, then you do one thing and one thing only: celebrate. First drafts are meant to be abysmal. That is why there is such a thing as rewriting. Consider another relevant quote I just thought of:

"All great writing is simply great rewriting."

What I am trying to say is that although I knew about how you were supposed to write quickly in the first draft, I never did when writing parts of my novel, mostly because I didn't want to get it right later, I wanted to get it right now. I fumbled and stumbled over picking the right words, and paused for minutes at a time so that I could endow a particular sentence with a particular idea that I wanted to portray. And writing would take me a long, long time.

Until the moment I started writing Ashed. That fateful night, I was tired and a little bit bored, and although I wanted to write, I really wanted to get the writing behind me. So what ended up happening was the prologue of Ashed got worse and worse the closer I got to the end, because I just wanted it done. But my writing also got quicker and quicker.

So with no further ado, here is the first draft of the prologue of Ashed (you can check out the final version, draft 3, in my last post):

     Lexus Connor woke to the agonising screams of the men in adjacent cells. Sweat dripped from his brow, as dark and evil dreams fell from him back into the night, and he sat up shivering. His eyes were grim and black, his face pale. He reeked of dirt and waste from days without showering and living in inhumane conditions. Bruises covered his body.
     For a moment he simply sat, considering what his life could have been. He was eighteen – not even a man yet – and the world was open to him, his life only ahead of him. But no longer. Now he was a criminal, sentenced to exile, sentenced to live in death, sentenced to hell. And from hell there could be no escape.
Suddenly a crash outside roused him, and Lexus looked to the doorway. He heard beeping, and the cell door slid open. Two men stood in front of him, one holding an electric baton and the other a tranquiliser gun that looked far too big in his small arms.
     “Will you go quietly?” asked the smaller one.
     Lexus nodded, and then exited into the corridor. The guards led him through a winding labyrinth of cells, passing limp bodies and weapons that the prisoners had likely tried to use to escape. No one had ever succeeded in doing so.
     After a few minutes, Lexus stood before a stairway. At the top was a blazing light, and the walls of the room were covered in glowing symbols.
     An android approached them quickly. “Hurry,” it said to the guard. “The rift is about to close. Is this the last one?”
     “Yeah, the others are dead,” replied a guard. “Sneaky bastards tried to escape.”
     There was no more discussion. The android simply placed a strange stone in Lexus's hand and pushed him up the stairs. By the time Lexus reached the eighth step, his head spun. Light flashed behind eyes, then darkness, then light. The sound of roaring thunder filled his ears, and he lost his balance, falling to the fall. He writhed on the staircase, then was picked up and thrown to the top. The noise became piercing, and as he hit the ground before the rift, darkness overcame him.
     He was dragged deeper than ever before into slumber.

*     *     *     *     *

As you can see, this piece resembles little more than the work of an eight year old fan fiction writer (yes, I despise fan fiction - and I'll tell you why in my next post) or a three limbed monkey. But the day after I wrote this, I came back and revised it, and then the next day I revised it again. And so far I've had only positive feedback on the final version.

So what is this post saying? It's saying that your first draft doesn't matter; write it quickly, because you can come back and edit, and editing is what makes a story great.


  1. Great, great post, with great, great advice. Cool story, good advice. I'll be sure to keep that in mind.

    My first drafts are always terrible when I look back on them. Mostly because I write my first drafts and then don't get back to them until about three years later, when I start to realize that I had no talent back then. I just get better as I go.

    I full-heartedly agree, Nick.

  2. Thanks Matt :) The thing for me now is to remember this post while I'm writing, and actually take heed of my own advice. And yea, I'm pretty sure it's mainly practice that gets you better at writing, as with anything (although the are lots of other things as well). Lots and lots of practice.

  3. Lots of good points you've made, and your story is intriguing. Now I know why I decided to follow your blog. Thank you for visiting mine. :)

  4. Thanks David. I followed your blog as well. I'm glad you like mine :) Did you see the actual prologue in my previous post?

  5. I, too, despise fan fiction. :P

    I feel like if writers didn't worry so much about getting it right the first time, as you say, then a lot of problems of writer's block would disappear. I have a similar post on my blog.

    And while the story is unpolished, it's still got good moments and a kind of rough energy to it. Rewriting is like cutting and polishing a gem.


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