Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Yogurt Lies Bleeding

The tiles are covered with yogurt gore, the remains of strawberry preserves and a few white smears where the spoon bounced to a stop. I caught the plate before it could fall to the ground and shatter, which is enough excitement for my recovering lungs. This past week I've been sleepwalking from the couch to the futon as I tried to sleep my way through a chest cold while watching endless hours of Hercule Poirot.

Today I am both vertical (yea!!!) and ready to speculate on whether I'm becoming too intemperate in my desire to rip first drafts to shreds or whether it's simply rude to ask for a critique of a first draft in the first place. In such a debate, of course, I would be condemning myself as much as anyone else, for I am certainly guilty of submitting ill-advised drafts for comment.

In these cases, I have found myself at a deadline point with something that I could have withheld and submitted later but found myself unable to resist trolling for comments and giving myself permission to further delay working on my draft while "waiting for comments." Instead of thinking of the time that my group would be wasting on doing for my draft what I should have done myself and of the violence that might be done to my story by letting a committee have a crack at revising it, I opted for the easy way to revision. Let someone else do the thinking.

My writing suffers every time I let this happen. For one thing, it gives me a wealth of similar comments that amount to the fact that I undertell a story in the beginning. I leave too much of it in my head and don't transfer enough of the logic to the page. This is good to know, but it is something that I might have discovered on my own as I worked through the drafts on my own. I also could have become more familiar with my own voice as I worked through the draft stages, rather than becoming familiar with other peoples' preferences for my work.

Early draft submittals are a shortcut to feedback that breaks down the author's own thoughts on how a story should go and may do violence to character development and story development. If a first draft is presented and the feedback is appropriate to the draft stage, the author may be tempted to stop working on an idea or redirect a story in ways that he or she may not have intended or wanted and may thus lose something of the drive and random creative energy that makes first drafts so exciting for the writer. If the writer doesn't maintain enthusiasm through the first draft, how will he or she maintain it throughout the difficult process of revision?

Revisions and multiple drafts can be a challenge. Understanding that drafts are necessary and that change may happen to the story as a result is a learning process that many writers have to go through. It has been difficult for me to get here and I've had some excellent example of hardworking writers from whom I could learn by observing their drafts. Early drafts and first drafts are the writer's imagination covered in muck cheerfully making castles in the sand. Later drafts are perhaps tree houses more suitable to welcoming other people to see the sturdiness of the writer's creation.

And if you wrote up your last D&D campaign...stick it your memory book and wait 20 years.

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