Writing Academy, Memoirs, Novels, Short Stories, Book Proposals

New York City Writing Coach

Gay Walley

What should a first draft be like?

It most likely won’t be that good. No-one’s is. Not even Hemingway’s. This not the draft that you will show anyone (except your coach). This is the one you belt out for yourself. This is the version where you get to know the characters intimately. You experiment with plot twists. You take some wrong turns. You overwrite so you can cut later. You underwrite so you can fill in later. You give it your all. You trust your intuition. You don’t edit yourself. You don’t imagine anyone will see it. You let go. You only listen to your imagination.
Max Perkins had it right when he said, “Just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.”
This is the raw gold that soon you will burnish. You are open to anything and open that you may be making mistakes. You attempt. You encounter characters you did not know were going to be in the story. You dead end on characters you thought would be in the story but who end up not being that interesting to you when you put them down. You let the story unfold. You are working with the story, finding out what it is.
There is no judgment, just risk. In language, in plot, in character, in scenes. You follow your loose roadmap but you detour if you feel you should. William Faulkner said, “ Get it down. Take Chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
If an image strikes you, you write it down. Maybe it is too much. We’ll decide later. If you think, “What if I take the characters to Vienna and maybe they just stay there,” and that feels right, then do it. There was a reason that popped into your head.
This is where you are creative, free, intuitive and you ignore limitations of thought.
That said, the action must always come out of the characters’ personalities and not be forced by the author simply because he or she wants to build a universe of his or her own making that has nothing to do with the characters. Every action has to be the result of the characters’ personalities and complexities.
We are all at the mercy of unexpected deaths, love, goodness and the bad. So let these events happen to your characters and let the actions show how your characters handle them.
Your first draft should have chapters full of scenes, dialogue, a kinetic knit. You most likely went a little awry. You’ll find out you left out some important transitions. Some important character development. Overwrote some sex scenes when you were bored. But you have your draft.
Now you’ve got something to work with. Something with great parts in it and something with terrible parts in it.
Now what? Tune in next week!