Tuesday, April 13, 2021

JEWEL or JUNK?

 

Reflections on First Drafts

 

There is a notion floating in writerdom that first drafts are garbage, bad, something to be overhauled, repaired and refurbished  beyond recognition.

In other words, “a sh---y first draft,” as Anne Lamott put it in her book about writing, Bird by Bird.  (She has a whole chapter called Shi—ty First Drafts.😳) It’s a brilliant chapter, as is the whole book. It’s part of her battle cry against paralyzing perfectionism, and in that sense, I concur.

 

But here is where we part. I have a much-published writing friend who said it differently, and I’m in his camp. “The first draft is where all the important stuff happens: Characters created, their actions emerge from an unformed blob of earth, and a rough shape of a story materializes. The rest is akin to a fine sculpturist working on refining the shape to make a beautiful polished marble figure.” 



All my stories changed some in revisions. But THE STORY was there in the first draft. So were the happiest creative moments, most of which I experienced while first drafting. No matter how many missed plot turns, absent descriptive ambience or typos, (to be worked on in revisions) these first drafts were not garbage. They’re the real deal.

 

Junk? Na-ah. First drafts are jewels in need of TLC and a fine polishing cloth to shine.




Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Literary Characters from One’s Real Life

 

Question: How many of your story characters are from your real life?

Answer: All of them

Answer: None of them

Answer: All of the above

 

My late father, a man who lived an astonishingly rich life and also possessed great writing talents, was often urged to write his autobiography. He refused, saying autobiographies are always exercises in self-justification, and in many instances also in self-beautification. He preferred fiction because he thought it more honest.

 

After penning quite a few fictional stories, I find that I agree with his assessment of fiction. The writer’s truth is in them, though it is not “just as it was in life.”

 

I trust these truths, and would even go so far as to call them self-evident,* at least in a roundabout way. *(With apologies to the brilliant wording of the United States Declaration of Independence)

Yes, even cute animal picture book stories are really people you know. Think of Aesop’s fables.

Now you got it.