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Completing A First Draft—The Happy Mess

by Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo


Photo: Sarah Williams

I had a terrible thought this morning: maybe I should abandon that manuscript. That manuscript being the one I started during NaNoWriMo. Maybe it’s no good, maybe it’s not going anywhere, I think I’m not getting one of the characters right, etc., etc.—an approximation of my inner monologue.

Oh dear, more doubt.

The other morning, I listened to a radio interview of John McPhee, the prolific and celebrated narrative nonfiction writer. He has written over thirty books since 1965. That’s a tremendous amount of finished work. And yet he referred to the initial process of writing a book as “the miserable business of a first draft.”

That sounds about right.

Although alternately energizing and frustrating, writing a first draft is a necessity. No kidding, you think. But, yes, if you want a finished novel, you must write it all the way through. I know—who knew?

I’ve been thinking about how unfinished work affects my productivity. I realize that having a bulk of unfinished work steals my energy and causes me to question my abilities and the possibility of success as a writer. If I want to be a novelist, it would help to have a novel that actually contains a beginning, middle and end. Not a promising and strong start, a slide into that squishy middle followed by a sharp drop into nothing.

Remember that thing your teachers made you write? It was called a rough draft. I almost forgot about that phrase. But that’s exactly what a first draft is: rough. It’s messy. It’s the frame, the bones, the sketch. It’s the beginning of something with potential.

It’s a happy mess.

And it’s the beginning of the real fun: editing. The first draft is about ideas, but the good writing comes out in the editing. So take your critical self out of it and move forward. Anything can be fixed later. Create, don’t dismantle. Not yet.

But how do you do it? How do you get that first draft done? (Why are you asking me?) Here’s my guess: one word at a time, with persistence and a good measure of stubbornness. Plod through it, skip, run, walk on your hands. The pace may change, but go with it. Write badly if you must, but get to the end.

Why am I putting myself through this “miserable business?” I need to write this novel through to simply know that I can.

How do you get through a first draft?

Book Giveaway!
Be sure to read the Q&A with Miranda Dickinson tomorrow, January 5th for one of two chances to win copies of her books Fairytale of New York and Welcome to My World! Simply leave a comment about the Q&A tomorrow for a chance to win. The winner will be chosen randomly and contacted on January 19th.

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Melissa Corliss Delorenzo
Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo is a writer, reader, yogini, mom, homemaker and the Associate Editor for Her Circle Ezine. She loves to cook and take long walks with her kids and is a woman who wants to meaningfully exchange and intersect with other women writers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She is at work on several novels. Melissa lives in North Central Massachusetts with her family.
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