One of the hardest things for me to get used to, as a writer, was my process. I had this idea – and I’ve seen it reflected in a huge number of writers and aspiring writers – that you write one single draft and then that’s perfect as it stands.
Of course, I read books about writing or articles on perfecting style, and they all mentioned how instrumental it was to write multiple drafts and edit scrupulously, but I had this complete and utter, “That doesn’t apply to me, because I’m pretty damned special,” attitude.
Then I decided to start writing more seriously – to turn it into something I worked hard at, rather than something I shook out of my sleeve every now and again. And wouldn’t you believe it? It made a huge difference.
I made my husband read a first draft, once. Having written it, I was full of new-baby smugness. “Behold, for I have made it, and it shall be great!” I cried as he bent toward the laptop and peered at the letters I had artfully (or so I thought) arranged.
My husband, you should know, is honest to a fault, sometimes. It makes for an intriguing combination with the fact that he’s also a complete and utter troll, but that aside, for a moment… I realised he wasn’t too impressed, and reminded him that I wanted his honest opinion.
He looked at me, sombre. “I hate it, babes,” he said. And he began to list the reasons why.
[I feel that I must stop here to explain that this is precisely why I asked him for his input. I really did want honest feedback, and I wanted to know what he thought, rather than what I wanted him to think. If, however, you feel this may enrage the crap out of you – pick someone else, yeah?]
I had to wait a little while. That “I made something, therefore it is GRAND” feeling had been wounded, and my first internal response was a senseless and protective anger. I let that die down – it took about ten minutes – and then began to think about the things he’d said. And damn the luck – it all made sense.
He loved the story, he said, but he hated the way it was told. A bunch of it had (unsurprisingly, to anyone who knows me even a little) descended into needless profanity. There were a number of other issues with it, which I can’t remember but which were nevertheless embarrassingly real.
I re-wrote the story. And then I edited it. And suddenly I realised my writing was a million times better when I put in the work. And that having the best finished product possible is a lot more important than being able to do it in a single draft.
Nowadays, I write anywhere between two and four drafts – completely, from scratch, every time. And then I edit. And I edit some more. And I edit some more. It takes a lot longer, and sometimes I just get sick of the story I’m working on. But when I’m done with something, I’m done.
I guess writing is like anything else – you’re never done growing, and you’re never done learning. But if I could give every writer, aspiring or not so much, a single piece of advice, it would be to develop a process that puts in the work and reaps the rewards of that work.