First drafts

Last week I forced myself back to my novel after what seemed an interminable festive ‘break’ where I ate too much, drank too much and did too little – well, I did a lot, but not generally stuff providing the creative, productive, satisfying buzz that only writing can give. Before teaching and other commitments loomed into view, I determined I would do a minimum of 1000 words a day and get the next chapter done.

That shouldn’t be difficult – 1000 words a day is the magic number after which lots of writers give themselves permission to knock off for the day and become … well … human again.

And, yes, I did it and managed to complete the chapter, writing 5000 words over three days. But I only did so by closing my eyes and ears to my inner critic, that pesky creature who constantly asks:and for me turning off that voice is almost IMPOSSIBLE to do.

I find first drafts incredibly difficult. What I’m writing feels like rubbish – clunky, clichéd, full of telling, repetitive, over-written, under-written … the list is endless. To let these things go and simply write is painful – that’s why I don’t think I would like NaNoWriMo, where the challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month.

The problem is the left brain, the part of the brain that we use for so many tasks. In the modern world, it seems as if we’re conditioned to let this side of the brain dominate at the expense of the other side, when really both sides are necessary.

The left brain is thought to be more logical, analytical, objective, critical, dealing with order and structure. It deals with all the areas that spell death to the fledgling visions of a first draft. At the first draft stage of creating, the right brain, dealing with intuition, emotion, imagination, creativity, needs to be given free rein. Roz Morris describes this stage as ‘guided dreaming’. She says ‘Your dreaming brain doesn’t get stuck and it doesn’t censor. It’s a private experience; it doesn’t have to please an audience. It explores and often surprises. There will be rubbish, but there will also be moments of sublime inspiration and crazy invention.’

So, I’m trying! Trying to ignore all the rubbish and trust that in there somewhere, there is something worthwhile, dare I hope the occasional ‘sublime inspiration’?!

Later, at the editing stage, I can bring in that ogre LEFT BRAIN and set it to work. Its role is vital, but not yet!

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  1. Polly says:

    I think you’re really disciplined to have written so much in such a short time ~ well done.
    Tell me, Lindsay, what is the average length of a chapter? Or is that like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’ I ask because you say you wrote 5000 words to complete a chapter … I’d thought that 2,500 words were about average for a chapter … what say you?

  2. Lindsay says:

    Disciplined or masochistic, Polly. I forced myself to do it!
    Well, it is like the piece of string question. They can be any length – occasionally books don’t even have chapters. I think 5000 words is too long, but in keeping with my ‘shut up inner critic’ approach, I ignored the length. My chapters tend to be 2500 to 35000, but this is a pov character who doesn’t come in as often as the other two pov characters, so her chapter ended up longer. Don’t think that will always be the case though. It’s a first draft!

  3. Christine says:

    Well done – to be able to silence that inner critic is so important. You say you find first drafts incredibly (adverb, Lindsay?) difficult but I’m guessing that once you’ve got it down, it’s a lot easier to see what works and what doesn’t, and fix it. I’ve just downloaded a book for 77pence that shows you how to get up to 10,000 words a day! There are so many typos in it that it seems the writer didn’t bother with a second draft and ignored that critic on her shoulder, but I have to say, what she writes makes a lot of sense. I’ll share her words of wisdom with you when I see you-(without the typos!) If you’re interested, of course.

  4. Lindsay says:

    I didn’t silence it – more tried to ignore it! I would never be able to write 10,000 words in one day – unless I lay in a darked room for the next week – typos or not.
    I don’t worry about adverbs in ‘ordinary’ communication – it’s too exhausting thinking about it all in fiction writing. And blogging and FB seem to demand exaggeration!

  5. Diane says:

    Hi Lindsay

    It is a relief to know that experienced writers also suffer from the inner critic which causes them to delete most of the stuff they are creating just after, and sometimes before, they have written it! I think you should be delighted to have written so much without giving in to the negative voice in your head.


  6. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Diane. The inner critic is essential, but I wish it would know its place and not keep interrupting before I’ve even finished the sentence I’m writing! It would be helpful if it waited to be invited to comment rather than sitting on my shoulder whispering rubbish rubbish.

  7. Caroline says:

    Ah yes the inner critic I’m familiar with him. Well done for keeping him locked up for the moment

  8. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Caroline. He’s getting very impatient – I’ll have to let him out soon.

  9. Robin Heaney says:

    Why is the inner critic a he, even when the author is a she?
    Anyway Lindsay if your chapters average between two thousand and thirty-five thousand words, I think you might be inventing or at least exploring a new genre.
    I recently came across a sentence in Midnight’s Children that was almost two pages long but that wasn’t a problem, so go for it I say!

  10. Lindsay says:

    Oh well spotted, Robin! Obviously I meant 3,500, but I’m not very good with zeros!
    I was pondering the same question about the gender of the inner critic when I found myself thinking of it as a ‘he’. I wonder if it might be partly to do with the male of the species being considered more logical, structured, liking reason and order?

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