• The (First Draft) Hangover

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 2 comments

    Sometimes revising a draft feels as awkward as cleaning up a spilled drink when you’re drunk. You think to yourself, I’m in no shape to do a good job here. Every time I move I make things worse. But it’s gotta get done or else feelings of shame and self-loathing will consume you. Or maybe not, but you’ll end up with a sticky mess as a horrible reminder if you let it go.

    I wonder–can revising ever feel as fluid and liberating as drafting? Or at least perversely enjoyable? I often find myself perpetually cringing in dismay while patching up content. My mental monologue goes something like this: Did I think I was being clever here? Why did I use “crimson” instead of plain old “red”? Useless information…non sequiter…typo…non sequiter…ah, I think I’d rather play a computer game right now…

    Of course, thoughts like these are counterproductive, so as I revise my own manuscript I make a monumental effort to appreciate the process. In general, I still don’t like revising, but I found a few ways to make the hardest part bearable.

    Adding more material to a manuscript is the hardest part of revising, in my opinion, but it can be just as fun as the initial drafting. You know how it goes–you finish a full first draft and feel like you can finally breathe because you’ve accomplished something! Yay!!! It’s no longer pretty flotsam and jetsam hanging out in your brain or mishmash paragraphs. It’s a cohesive(ish) story or what have you, and now you have to go in and add all the missing pieces. (Breathing ceases.) Revising is a more analytical process than drafting, but you can view it as another opportunity to delve into your story. Just because you’re technically revising doesn’t mean that you have to add more material with insane caution. Revisions can be revised, so increased precision shouldn’t strangle your creativity.

    However, if positive thinking doesn’t work and I still feel incapacitated while making additions, I turn to my “black book.” It’s a black, spiral-bound notebook–the kind you got while school supply shopping back in grade school. It’s a lot like Morning Pages, except I turn to it when I’m in the middle of reworking a manuscript. I use my black book to experiment with ideas, phrases, dialogue…everything, really, that I feel inhibited about inserting into my work. I only have two rules for my black book: I don’t tear out pages and I don’t get finicky over details. I’m already anal-retentive when it comes to anything writing related, and revoking my deleting privileges with the black book is rather like behavioral therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder. The more I expose myself to all my ideas of varying quality, the more comfortable I feel inserting more material. I’m also more apt to keep rolling with an idea instead of writing a couple sentences and jumping to another paragraph when I feel frustrated.

    I hope these suggestions help, WriteByNighters, and next week I’ll go into ways to cope with that other dreaded process: editing your manuscript.


    In addition to writing for WriteByNight’s blog, Jenna Cooper writes for BE Mag and a blog called FemThreads.  Aside from writing, Jenna served as an AmeriCorps Member from 2008-2010 and will start her M.S. in Information Studies in Fall 2012.  She graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas.

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    Justine Tal Goldberg

    I am right there with you, Jenna. The approach you describe is basically a way of tricking yourself into creative freedom. We writers can be so darn inhibited–Isn’t it ironic? (Dontcha think?)–anything we can do to break free is constructive and very much worth doing.

    I’m curious, do you ever find starting a story from scratch from a different perspective and/or moment helpful, retaining very little from the original? That usually does it for me. Of course, every writer is different.


    Yes, I love doing that! Sometimes a fresh start is so motivating that I end up with more material than the first time around!

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x