The First Draft Dance
I love National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), because I finished my very first manuscript by signing up for NaNo many years ago. Since then, I’ve finished quite a few first drafts. Writing a new story is like learning to dance with a new partner.
The words appear in my mind, smile coyly, and then twirl away just out of reach. I stare at the blank page, desperate to capture the graceful swirls and movements I just witnessed. My clumsy fingers try to hit the keyboard in the correct sequence, wanting to move as gracefully as Karina Smirnoff on Dancing with the Stars, but instead my rhythm is more like Steve Wozniak’s.
I hit the delete key and start over.
We stumble along, the words and I, stepping on each other’s toes. There are some painful moments where I grasp the words too closely, hold them too tight. They disappear off to dance with someone else. I chase after them. For a little while I dance with some other words, but it is awkward.
Eventually, the words return and I’m back in the groove. Or, at least trying to find it.
By the third chapter, we’re pretty much stepping in synch. I still have to count the beat and spend a lot of time looking down at my feet (fingers). This is the “beginning foxtrot” part of our dance routine. We know the steps, we’re even executing them fairly well but it’s still a little jerky and we are not able to add any flair like armmovements.
And then we hit the sagging middle. The very, very, low-hanging, super sagging middle. I’m trying so hard to keep going. Now I’m using my arms too much and the rest of my body is out of synch. The words have pretty much given up at this point and I’m stabbing the keys on my own. This is the moment I wonder if maybe I should never, ever, show my current WIP to anybody. I should probably only do this writing thing in the privacy of my own home, and keep it a secret.
Luckily, just like Andy, I keep on writing/dancing.
Somewhere in the last third of the draft, the words and I are hitting our stride. We’re not yet of polished professional quality, but we’ve found how to move gracefully in sync. At times, it is even quite hot. There are still timing issues to work out, some structural problems to solve, but the main thing is that we are having fun and I’m writing with a huge smile on my face.
This is the feeling I hold on to as I take a little break and then start the editing part of the project. Sometimes, while I rewrite, I have to hold on very tightly re-remind myself that this is fun. But now the moments of that perfect synchronized movement, the joy soaring through my body, and the big smile on my face happen more often and keep me going enough to finish the project. And hopefully, the audience (readers) will experience the end product with as much joy (tail wagging) as I did while creating it.
What type of dance does your first draft process most resemble?