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,