Fearless First Drafts

My week off was interesting. I didn’t handle it very well.  A day in, I got bored.

I decided to paint to relieve that boredom. I ran through about eight tubes of watercolor in four days. But I completed a piece or two, and did a few practice pieces that definitely challenged me to not be afraid of the paint, and to let myself go as dark as I needed to go on the first pass if possible. Why? Because there’s a saturation point at which paint is at its most vibrant. Keep layering to achieve the depth and you risk muddying your colors. It pays to be bold and dynamic from the outset, to be fearless.

Not that much different from writing a first draft.

I don’t hold to the opinion that all first drafts are crap, and that’s why we rewrite. Rather, we rewrite to add a few more layers of paint to places where we didn’t lay down the pigment as well as we might. Because there’s a learning curve, it’s not uncommon to end up picking at it so much in the revision process that we end up with mud, have to scrap it, and start over with a new draft of the same story. Still not crap, and definitely not wasted time.

I’ve done all of those things at one point or another—rewrites to add depth, add emotional quality, add stronger motivations and more conflict. I’ve taken stories that lacked stakes and redrafted them to make them darker and more dramatic. It’s part of becoming a writer, just like making truly horrendous mistakes with the paint and paper is part of learning how to paint.

But the more I paint, the bolder I’ve become. No more poking around in tiny pools of paint for me. Bring on the deep wells! Order the 21ml tubes! Forget the tiny brushes! Gimme a big brush! Big paper! Dangerous subjects! Gimme! I can mess up. I’m not afraid. If I can’t fix it, I’ll turn over the page, sketch it afresh, and paint on the back.

That same thing is beginning to happen in my writing. Frankly, I love it. My latest WIP, FLIPPING, is a perfect example of that increasing confidence. While I largely believe that the voice of my protagonist, Charley Dalton, was simply his way of expressing himself, I was amazed at how deep he wanted to get into his motivations, emotions, and beliefs about himself and others from the very beginning. Instead of backing off, and muting his colors, he flaunted them on every page.

As for dangerous subjects? I had no idea that he wanted to dig so deeply into territory that I’ve never explored, feelings I found almost unnerving in their complexity. He wanted to address social concerns that will require more research on my part. And the magic system is like nothing I’ve written before.

It’s going to be advanced project for me in revisions. I’m not certain I’m up to it. But, like painting, being bolder and more open to mistakes really made the first draft something very special. Here’s to hoping my revision will be just as bold, dramatic, and absolutely fearless.


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