Nov 10, 2014

The Luxury of a Messy First Draft

One of the things I have occasion to think about, a lot and in great depth (or at least the kind of focus that one hopes will result in great depth), is the difference between working on original and licensed fiction. I do a great deal of the latter, and enjoy it; I do not very much of the former, and would enjoy doing more.

Today I took an afternoon and sat with a pen and notebook working on a novel, all mine mine mine--and during the course of that work I started thinking about a signal difference in the composition process of a licensed novel when compared to an original novel. With disclaimers abounding about how every project is different etc. etc., here is the conclusion at which I arrived:

The great thing about an original novel is that your first draft can be an utter disaster.

With a licensed book you don't have time for the first draft to be a mess. You have to zero in, lock in, make something like a recognizable novel as you're going through in the early stages--or else you're never going to hit the deadline.

Con- (or ob-) versely, in the original novel I'm working on, I've got a notebook full of about 75 pages of stuff. I've got other notebooks for this novel too, but this is the one I'm working in right now because I dedicated it specifically to one portion of the book. (Why? That will make more sense when you read the book, which I hope will be in 2016.) In that 75 pages, I've written all kinds of stuff, and in that all kinds of stuff are three different versions of a crucial scene. I arrived at all of them in a completely organic and comfortable fashion, and I have no idea which of them will be in the finished book. But it seemed remarkable to me when I figured this out, because in a licensed book I would have written that scene the first time, called it good, and then started figuring out how to make everything else fit with it.

Not, I hasten to clarify, because I care less about one kind of book. (Although the kind of caring is certainly different). The reason for pulling the trigger on a scene after you've written it once, instead of semi-accidentally exploring it three different ways, is simple:

Time pressure.

Licensed books come in with insane deadlines, and the process of drafting them has to reflect that. Only in an original book, without external strictures or a pressing deadline, do you have the luxury of a messy first draft.

And a messy first draft is an absolute delight. I enjoyed this afternoon.

Now I'll get back to working out the licensed stuff, because I've got a book due...no, wait, two...I mean, four.
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