Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First Draft Anxiety

Lately I've been having high school nightmares. You're probably familiar with at least one of them: the one where you bring your math notebook to history class, maybe, or the one where you're late to class but you're stuck at your locker because you forgot the combination. The one where you're sitting in French and you realize there's a test and you haven't been attending class all year. Or perhaps the one where Mrs. North turns into your grandmother and they're both mad at you and you hate hate hate disappointing them, but you don't what you did this time or how to fix it and why are you burying your math book in the garden anyway? and now you're crying in your sleep, you silly dork... No wait, maybe that last one's just me.

Well anyway, I hadn't had dreams like that in a long time until recently, but I guess there's something in the air (it is exam season, after all) or, hmm, I suppose the fact that my characters go to a high school similar to mine might be to blame. (What's that? I'm writing a book set in high school and now I'm dreaming about it? Shocker!) Or maybe, just maybe, the dreams are coming out of the fact that I have first draft anxiety, which feels an awful lot like I've just gotten a D on my physics test and now I'm desperate to bring up the grade.

Raise your hand if you've ever wanted to flush a first draft down the toilet. That's where I am right now. Is there a twelve step program for perfectionists? Even if there is I wouldn't join—I'd be too afraid of botching one of the steps! For all the excitement of writing a new story, I keep seeing all the flaws in it. And now I'm fighting first draft nerves.

What do you do when...
-You have a totally flat beanbag character flopping around in your scenes?
-Your dialog is way out of proportion with the rest of the writing and it's throwing your pacing all off?
-Instead of an arc your plot line looks like a rocky financial chart?
-Your main character's voice is growing stale?

I guess there's only one thing to do: suck it up, keep writing, and if you're really desperate, quote some Anne Lamott: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” Fixing the issues is what the second draft is for. And besides, that bad character just balances out the really great one, that dialog is pretty decent, the plot is going somewhere, and at least the main character has a voice to begin with. There's always a silver lining.

Anyone else going through first draft blues?


  1. I can help you with physics. :)

  2. HA! High school physics was never a problem, actually, but where were you in my first semester of college? I loved math, but not applied math. (Or as I always put it, I love math that has letters, not decimal points.)

  3. Ha! I had one of those locker combination dreams about a month back!

  4. LOL - This sounds like me during my first drafts. Eventually, I just have to lock away that inner perfectionist and get the words on paper or I'll never finish. I have to trust that I'll be able to fix it during revisions or I get completely paralyzed!

    Good luck with drafting!

  5. Re: "The one where you're sitting in French and you realize there's a test and you haven't been attending class all year."

    --This actually happened to me in Psych 101. It had been about a month since I'd bothered attending the class. Obviously, I failed that exam...

    Love your description of beanbag flat characters flopping around! XD

    But yeah, I think we all feel that about our first drafts somewhere along in the process. If we don't, it may be because we simply aren't critical enough to recognize the flaws (<--- This was me a few years ago, when I thought everything I wrote was wonderful. I was kind of like my own mom)

    On the plus side, recognizing the flaws means we are capable of fixing them, too. What's that old cliche? Knowledge is half the battle? I find it helps me to accept the flaws if I also concentrate on one thing I really like about the story. Usually, this is one of the characters. Then I tell myself how great that aspect is and for the sake of that, I have to make everything else that's currently crappy up to that standard. If I've got the sense of that one good thing, the bad stuff becomes less of a sign of the novel's DOOM and more of just a problem that needs to be fixed.

  6. Kendra - You too? I guess they never really go away.

    Jamie - Thanks! And you're right. Less qq, more (writing epic) pew pew (scenes).

    Ico - Oh, you make me laugh :) Thanks for helping me "keep my head in the game." I think I have to keep writing for Alan's sake. And for the scenes I haven't yet gotten to. And for a lot of other reasons... many of which I wouldn't have noticed without your encouragement.

  7. I am for sure. i've been letting mine sit for a couple weeks so I can refresh my brain and now I'm paranoid it's lacking in so many different areas. I'm trying not to be too hard on myself tho. We can only go so far and then we have to rely on CPs to sock it to us. :)

  8. Yes, thank goodness for CPs :) Good luck with conquering your first draft!

  9. For Alan's sake? Is he your secret favorite, now? ;-) (Do you play favorites? I do--and it's not a secret. I'm terrible that way)

  10. Currently... yeah, he's probably my favorite aside from Thea. I'm also starting to love Rizzit (the new character introduced at the end of the chapter you just finished). And Zeke isn't even part of the picture yet. Don't know who I'll like best by the end.