First drafts always suck

The Aramis Gothboi project: writing a children’s book

progress journal
DRAFT: 01 | word count: 32,263

 

Journal entry 26:

Here’s something! Fellow writer and all-round fantastic person Kylie Orr was recently shortlisted for the Stuart Hadow Short Story Prize 2020. Her cracking piece Second Chance Elodie (credited as Kylie Shearer) is a revealing exploration of the bond between mother and child. Congrats Kylie!

And if that wasn’t enough, she’s also been hard at work gathering contributions for her Beautiful Sentences Series on Instagram. I was lucky enough to be included alongside some fantastic writers with my featured sentence pulled from the Aramis Gothboi project. Have a squizz on Instagram to see the full collection, and why not give Kylie a follow while you’re there

Speaking of short stories, I am neck-deep in the editing process of a short story set for publication before the end of the year, which is quite a nice little footnote. This one is most definitely not for children. Updates will follow when it becomes available.

As for the Aramis Gothboi project, you may have noticed that it has been a little over a month since I last checked in. You may be wondering how it is going. Good I guess, but it doesn’t feel like the work I’ve put in adds up to all that much. If you were to judge purely by word count, it’s been a whole lot of nothing that equates to a little over 28 words per day (don’t judge it that way, you monster!).

Admittedly, my 50,000 word target is about 5,000 words behind schedule and feels increasingly out of reach with every passing moment (that said, I added 500-600 words after I wrote this last night, so perhaps I’m being a tad overdramatic). To catch up, I may have to do another 10K in 10 days challenge or two as this feel like the most effective approach to advancing on that front.

I’ve also been reading and managed to finish Crime and Punishment. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s worth the slog. I loved both the beginning and the end of this book quite a lot. The bit in between, however, sags like an old mare and I’m not convinced that you need to take the whole trip to truly appreciate the ending. Feel free to convince me otherwise, I can certainly see the argument for it.

So that’s one more of the classics I can cross off the list, and now I’m onto Great Expectations. The first few chapters are very much Dickens doing his thing, but it is far too early to give any substantial thoughts on what I think of the story. One thing I can take away from tackling these books is just how far we’ve come in terms of style. Once upon a time it was perfectly acceptable for a writer to ramble on for 500 pages. Audiences lapped it up back then, but nowadays we want it quick and we want it half an hour ago. What has not changed throughout history is that readers want well-drawn characters. As readers we want to feel what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, we want to be surprised by their choices, and we want to learn what they do and why.

In relation to my own writing, I’m becoming more aware of just how important it is to give the reader a satisfying immersive experience and I can tell you now that it’s no easy task. Sure Dickens and Dostoevsky were wont to rabbit on, but they also knew what they were doing. There were no happy accidents in these meticulously assembled stories carefully crafted in accordance to the style of the time.

Today the novel writing process is more streamlined than ever and technology has given anyone who can turn on a computer the ability to be a writer. If you can type up your story and get it onto Amazon, or another similar platform (and absolutely anyone can), boom. Instant writer. To be a successful storyteller using the written word though, that’s not so easy. The skills necessary to do this require time and practice. Did I mention you need time?

Over the last three weeks I have been sweating over a meagre 300 words for a university assessment. The point of this handful of words is to express the plot of my story. I thought I did a decent job, but the feedback I received suggests otherwise. Upon revisiting the text with this new information, I can see what I was missing.

If, as writers, the intention of our work is not there on the page then it is fair to say that we are not doing our job. It doesn’t matter how many words we use, whether it’s a tweet or a thesis, if there is unintentional ambiguity then we have not used the tools we have been given to full effect. If the characters in our novels lack depth, or our dialogue is wooden despite our best intentions to breathe life into every word, then we have failed.

It is all about communication, clear and simple.

If you stop reading this blog before its conclusion, because you are bored or simply not on board with what I’m trying to say here, I have failed. Should I then walk away with my tail between my legs? We humans are constantly making mistakes, but by doing so we are also learning and evolving.

We do not learn by thinking I tried and I failed. Only when we add, so where did I go wrong and how can I do better next time? are we able to make progress.

The Aramis Gothboi project will not be finished any time soon and it would be shortsighted of me to think that when the first draft is completed, I’ll be able to shop it around and get a book deal.

A first draft is most certainly an accomplishment, but it is only the first step. I think that as writers we should look at first drafts as a personal victory and proof to ourselves that we can do this.

The second draft, in which we interrogate all those misplaced words and flimsy plot lines that we worked so hard to get down on paper is when we prove to our peers that we can do this. With the help of our editors and writer friends, this second step in the process does much of the groundwork toward ensuring our intention is clear on the page.

From thereon, each additional draft is rinse and repeat until our manuscript is ready for us to prove to the world that we can do this (this could take a while).

First drafts always suck. We will try and we will fail, but it is not the end of the process. Receiving critical feedback is the only way we can analyse our work (and ourselves) so that we might ask, so where did I go wrong and how can I do better next time?

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