We finished the first draft of A Flame in the Wind of Death last week. So is it really done? Should my critique team expect it this week and start sharpening their red pens?
No. (Sorry, critique team!)
I think one of the most important lessons I learned from writing Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It is the importance of perspective. When we’re drafting, we get close enough to our work that we’re nearly a part of the story. This is actually an important aspect of writing a first draft – that intense intimacy with our story helps bring it to life. But when we’re that intimate with it, we’re actually too close to look at our work with a critical eye.
A little separation is actually a good thing. To create a really polished draft, you need to stop looking at your manuscript as its creator and start looking at it from a reader’s perspective. The easiest way to accomplish this is to simply disconnect from your creation for a period of time, preferably up to several weeks, if not more. And it’s amazing what you find when you come back to it. Suddenly, your precious baby, which four weeks earlier could do no wrong, is a holy terror: Plot errors (you could drive a truck through that plot hole!), character motive missteps (why on earth would he/she ever do that??) and over-exposition (Jen, you’re the only one who cares about the fracture speed of wet vs. dry bone under different conditions; concentrate on the story!) just to name a few. Each individual writer will have their own typical issues.
So, for now, Flame has gone into the virtual drawer. And I fully expect to find these and other issues when I come back to it, and that’s okay. This is why first drafts exist – to get the story down; polishing comes later. Now, with that in mind, I did purposely overwrite some of the manuscript, especially the scientific sections. It’s always easier to remove information later than to have to do the research all over again to add in more science fact, so that was a practical choice. I know that some of it will need to be cut. And in keeping with Stephen King’s sage advice that ‘Second draft = first draft – 10%’, I’ve got room to trim.
I’m very happy with how our first draft of the manuscript turned out. The mystery is solid and has some very interesting aspects, the relationship between the main characters develops nicely and a new, continuing subplot is introduced. But I’m looking forward to the chance to make it even tighter and sharper with a little time and distance, and another run at the storyline as a whole.
For those of you who write, do you find this breathing space with your manuscript to be important?
Photo credit: hpaich