guest post by Rich Devin
(reposted with permission from 13Thirty Books and with minor edits)
I’ve always been interested in how other writers write, not the mechanical aspects, such as using longhand or a computer, or speaking the words into a word processing program, (although that too is interesting and perhaps fodder for a later blog). I’m more interested in the first-draft process.
Some of the folks in the writing group that I belong to are fastidious about a perfectly clean first draft, where every comma and period is in its respective place. I, on the other hand kind of “dump” everything onto the page. Admittedly, my first drafts are a bit of mess, as I take the thoughts from my brain and place them onto the page, and I have some work cut out for me as I go back to clean up that first draft, but that’s when the “magic” happens for me.
I wrote a screenplay with a good friend some time ago. We were optioned for a couple of years, but the screenplay didn’t make it to the silver screen. It was a good overall experience, and I’m very proud of the screenplay, but the learning curve of working with him was difficult. At first he wanted to make each page as good as it could be before moving on, and I wanted to get the ideas on the page and come back later to fix it. In the end, we compromised by first writing a complete scene filled with errors and then going back to clean it up. It took us longer, in my opinion, to get the first draft onto the page, but yes, we did have a clean first draft when we were done. But at what expense?
Have you ever looked up from your keyboard to find a page filled with characters doing things you hadn’t thought of them doing? Isn’t that cool? When working on my thriller The Third Hour, coming out in the fall of 2013, I one day found out that the main character, who is a priest, was an atheist! How did that happen? The character just took over, then one day I’m writing, and there it was. Would that have happened to me (and the character) if I had been all too consumed with a clean first draft? For me? No.
With Ripper–A Love Story, (April 2013, 13 Thirty Books,) I wrote the first draft, and then Lance Taubold, my partner on the book, came in and re-wrote the first draft, adding his point of view and characters. It was a great process to watch as another writer took the words I had written and filled them in, giving them more life. It’s almost like Frankenstein’s monster: alive, but barely, and then another strike of lightning, in this case, words, and the creature becomes more alive.
I tried once, while taking a writing class, to put down a really clean first draft. It drove me crazy, but that is what the professor wanted, so I did it. Never again.
Write the way that is right for you. The method to the madness doesn’t really matter. Get the words down. Build the story. Let the characters grow in the manner that most befits your style.