Sunday, July 12, 2009

Early Drafts

Lately, I’ve noticed something different about how I approach early drafts.

No longer do I look for perfection.

Instead, I try to see the page in front of me at the moment.

Not how I might want it to look in its finished form.

How it looks now.

I no longer embark from shore expecting an early draft to appear fully formed on the page.

Rather, I treat the page like an artist’s canvas, and use the early draft as a chance to play with words the way an artist plays with colors.

Early drafts are about staying in the moment, breathing and noticing one’s breath, and finding a rhythm that brings the story to life.

In an early draft, it’s more important to hear a voice, I think, than to search for the shape of a story or worry about pacing or plot.

It’s a time for words to flow unrestrained, and for that to happen I have to let go.

A first draft is where I struggle with releasing the fears and anxieties that often control and constrain the flow of words.

It’s where I learn to breathe and notice how the words flow out of the breath...without judgment or criticism...without expectation or disappointment...without praise or approval.

Just words... flowing... and the feeling of them flowing through my pen onto the page.

And in the process of letting go, the draft somehow opens up... and I begin making discoveries about the characters and the plot and the pacing of the story which I can use as the foundation stones in subsequent drafts.

How do you approach early drafts?

Do they bring misery or joy?

When you get a moment, let us know.


Jenna said...

Great post Bruce! I was just mulling all this over yesterday and contemplated a post on early drafts but I think you've said it better than I could have.

Early drafts for me have always been a very messy, exploratory process--almost like a big fat brain dump--and surprisingly I've always loved the part of the process where I lay it on the line.

The part I've always dreaded is taking that early draft and trying to make something of it.

Then something hit me recently and I realized I could never make something readable out of random thoughts and scenes and dialogue so I sat and make some notes on the overall structure of the novel and started a new document and started typing out my novel word by word looking at the early draft for reference.

I like what you said about early drafts being the foundation stones--that is so true.

Bruce Black said...


Taking early drafts to the next stage can be intimidating. One of my teachers once suggested that "true" writing--writing where you reach for a certain kind of emotional truth--is only possible once you break through the yellow police tape warning you that you're entering a danger zone.

Maybe that's a helpful image to keep in mind as we re-read our early drafts... after we've gotten words on paper? Early drafts can help us detect where we might find those "danger" zones and, just as important, when we might be steering away from them rather than breaking through the tape.

Anyway, thanks for the note.