The Suck Draft

I’ve debated a lot about where to go next.  I think there is more to say about idea generation and I know there is more to do before you get to the rough draft, but I thought I might jump forward a little bit for a minute and do something different.  After all, the suck draft, ahem, the rough draft is where everything happens.  It’s where all those idea seeds you’ve been nurturing get to grow into beautiful plants.  It is what you have to start before you can actually say you’re writing a book or even a story.

You see, all the stuff you’ve done up to this point isn’t writing.  Not really.  It is the planning stage before you get to writing.  It can be infuriating and fascinating.  It can be torture and it can be bliss.  But it isn’t writing.  Writing is sitting your butt in the chair and typing Chapter 1 at the top of the page.  It is dragging those ideas out of your head and your notebooks and turning them into a story.

I know a couple people who have been thinking about stories for years.  Decades, even.  They have the whole story world mapped out in their heads and they have a rough view of the plot.  They even know who the characters are.  Some of them have even started a rough draft (or several) only to throw it away.  These people are not writing.  They may be eventually, but they aren’t yet.

But you are a writer.  You want to be an author.  Authors write things that get published.  I know, it sounds crazy, but Google it.  If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I spent almost the entirety of my life being a writer, but not an author.  It wasn’t until this year that I changed that.  And the biggest thing you have to do to make that true for you is to start writing.

But I have to caution you.  Writing the rough draft is not for the faint of heart.  It is really, really hard.  It is one of the hardest things I think I’ve done.  You stare at the blank page and don’t know what to write.  You cuss at your computer as you go back and rewrite something you’ve already done.  You doubt the quality of what you’ve written and you question whether you’ve got enough story in you to write a whole book.  

I’m going to quote Laini Taylor again because her description of the rough draft changed the way I thought about it.  I had never written one before this year, at least of this magnitude.  In fact, I had never written fiction longer than a few thousand words.  I had an unrealistic expectation that the story was supposed to just flow out from inside me.  I know it seems silly, but I thought that the process of the rough draft was supposed to be as simple as getting it out of my head and onto the paper.  I could never start a draft because I didn’t feel like I knew enough about a story to do it.  There were other factors too, but this was one of the big ones.

When I stumbled across the Not for Robots blog early this year, I saw the rough draft from a completely different perspective.  You don’t have to have it all figured out when you start.  In fact, no one has it all figured out in the beginning or maybe even the middle.  The rough draft is where you figure that stuff out.

Laini described the rough draft as a vast wilderness.  You drop in at the edge and you have a very important mission: get to the other side.  The other side is the end of your book.  There are forests and lakes and cliffs and all sorts of other obstacles that stand between you and it.  You have to get out your machete and hack your way through.  Sometimes, you may come up against the edge of a cliff and have to double back and try again.

All you have with you besides your trusty machete is a pencil and a piece of paper.  As you hack, climb, and crawl, you are drawing a little map.  And, when you eventually come to the other side, you have a rough sketch to show the way you came, but it isn’t really ready yet.  You have to go back to the beginning and retrace your steps, refining the path.  Maybe there are places where there is a little better route.  Maybe you need to widen the path or dig steps into the side of a hill.  The point is that you aren’t done when you get to the other side.  You just have your route.

It is only once you’ve reached the other side of the wilderness that you have the whole story in your head.  And it may not be pretty.  Laini calls the rough draft the “exploratory draft.”  Some people call it the rough draft, while others call it the zero draft.  In jest, I call it the “suck draft.”  I don’t typically call it that out loud because people look at me funny, but that’s what it is.  I call it that because it reminds me not to strive for perfection at this stage.  Otherwise, it would take forever to get through the story.

Unless you are a writing genius, that first cut through the story isn’t going to be pretty.   I know I’ve repeated this a few times, but I want it to stick.  It is not easy and it is not perfect.  It may have some really good parts, but it is going to need some work.  It may need a lot of work.  And that’s ok.  No, it’s not ok.  It is reality, like it or not.  To me, that was great news.  How about for you?

By the way, I’ve had a lot to say so far based on the areas I’ve struggled with.  If you have topics you would like to make sure I spend some time on, drop a comment below or send me a note at MikeEMillerBooks at gmail.com   I’d love to hear from you.

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