In today’s edition of the Mirage Weekly Newsletter, I talk about what to expect from next week’s story, The Voice of the Wild, reveal an excerpt from the short story, and have a quick word about the grim reaper, who keeps hovering near me.
In today’s edition of the Mirage Weekly Newsletter, I talk about returning to writing, my wedding day and aftermath, and yet another death in the family.
First drafts suck and there are no exceptions. I’ve read that these days Stephen King pens only a single draft that is edited a couple of times before it hits the printers. While I do not believe the validity of this statement, even if it is true, I would never endorse such wayward behaviour. Remember, Stephen King has written over 200 stories, and even if his process has grown lax of late, more than a couple of them still suck. I wonder how long he spent on Lisey’s Story? I bet it wasn’t long.
I believe a first draft is something altogether terrifying, mystic, and beautiful beyond on any spectrum. It is an opportunity for a writer to go nuts; to weave convoluted metaphors that would never go to print; to act a bit careless with colourful dialogue; to experiment with character actions and motivations; to do things an editor would likely frown upon, without any repercussion. And if something doesn’t work? Who gives a fuck? It’s a first draft, just keep on writing until it all comes together! It’s also really the only time you have an excuse to say “I’ll fix it later” without sounding lackadaisical. How awesome is that?
Some might even argue that this doesn’t classify as a draft, and I’d probably agree. “Proto-draft” might be more appropriate, yet my point still stands. It sucks.
The idea is great, and the thematic elements perfectly align with the final product. Some of the prose is even preserved, such as an overview of Ralph’s prodigious delivery history, yet does this proto-draft have any business in a published medium? While the story and a few ancillary details remain the same, virtually nothing about the final execution matches the initial messy scrawl. And there is a reason for this.
One of the details that is noticeably lacking from the proto-draft is the model of Ralph’s truck. In Prime Mover it is a Kenworth, yet the proto-draft boasts nothing more than a lonely, empty line where the name of the model should be. I find this poignant. Why the line? Why not simply name any model of truck? Even if it isn’t a great choice, surely it can be changed later?
True. It can be changed later, and that isn’t the problem. When I was pumping out the proto-draft, I had a salient image in my head of Ralph’s truck. Something tall and proud, almost like an effigy of sorts. I always wanted the truck to be a character onto itself—which is even more evident in the intermediary drafts—and while I knew exactly what she embodied, I couldn’t immediately verbalise those thoughts, not to the extent of jotting down the name of a model. I left a vacant space there because I didn’t want to waste time flicking through my mental index of trucks until I found the right one, or even more calamitously, wasting time on the internet, browsing for pitch-perfect solutions. If I’d stopped to figure out the finer details at such an early stage, I probably never would have finished.
It’s a great allegory for any draft: It doesn’t matter if it sucks—it doesn’t matter if elements are lacking or even missing—the only thing that does matter is getting it done. An empty canvas is nothing but a lack of content and a deficit of tangible ideas. As long as there’s something there, no matter how bare, it can be moulded into something magnificent.
There’s no limit on how many drafts it takes to produce something worthwhile, which means you have all the time in the world to fix the failings of early attempts. If you sit there and wait for perfection, however, it will never come. Don’t obsess over minute details, they can be patched in later. Just write. That’s all it takes.
Stayed tuned—I really don’t know if that metaphor applies anymore, but you know what I mean—for the third entry in Scrawling a Short Story! It won’t be as big of a gap this time, I promise. Things are finally on track over here, and you should be seeing a lot more content over the coming weeks and months. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.
Happy reading, happy writing, happy life,
I was doing my rounds of the internet earlier today—investigating a few writing forums, clicking through a couple of resources, employing an iota of effort to network—when I stumbled upon what claimed to be a resource for burgeoning writers. Great! I thought. There can never be too many resources to help nurture growing talents and tighten the bonds between those with common interests. Let’s face it, writing is a solitary art. Sometimes you just need someone to give you a good piece of advice; a positive word to motivate you to the next chapter; a little something to let you know that all this time and effort you’re expending isn’t in vain.
Alas, while this particular website—which I won’t link to—might have once provided some fertile soil and a little bit of love and care to budding plants and blooming flowers, it seems to have devolved into a cesspit of negativity, where virulent weeds and cutthroat briars strangle the life out of any spot of greenery. Essentially, instead of offering some heartfelt advice and respectful writing tips, the regular prowlers of this website opt for an all-too-common attitude of accentuating the negative, forgoing all the worthwhile traits of a talented beta reader in favour of under-the-belt punches to make themselves appear superior. From nitpicking petty grammar mistakes, such as a misplaced comma, to belittling a young writer for having the audacity to not proofread their draft, not one piece of criticism on the website was worthwhile or warranted. It was all quite violent to be honest, and unforgivably hostile.
When selecting a beta reader, no matter how far along the writing process you are, even if you’re picking up a pen for the first time since Creative Writing in Year 8, you need to find someone who is objective, yet carries a degree of benevolence. Unfortunately, the internet is swarming with (what I call) pseudo-grammarians, who have no credentials to their name, yet hand out criticism like a card dealer at a casino. They think they’re providing a service by pointing out an absent apostrophe, but at the end of the day, they lack the finer skills to offer any kind of guidance, and only exist to boost their own digital ego.
There are five core components to any successful novel: Characters, Worldbuilding, Story, Style, Execution. It is learning these core components, and learning them well, that is the hard task. Grammar and punctuation do not matter, at least in the beginning—they come with time, providing you read and write as much as possible. No new writer needs to be lectured about a spliced comma, most definitely in the drafting stage of a tentative book. It’s insulting. Editors exist for a reason, because even experienced writers aren’t infallible. Funny that, eh?
I wrote this blog not so much to disdain this particular website, but to offer a word of warning: Choose your friends wisely, and employ even tighter parameters for your beta readers. I can’t help but pity the fresh writers who offer up their work for criticism, expecting an intelligent, well-formed response, only to have their legs torn off before they even learn how to walk. I only hope they can take a little inspiration from the adorable axolotl and learn to regrow those limbs.