Here’s the final installment of our recap of February’s Third Thursday program, “The First Draft: Let the Words Rip!”, with W.K. “Kip” Stratton, Greg Garrett, Jacqueline Kelly and Keith Graves. These are the last two questions Cyndi asked our esteemed panelists.
Don’t forget to check out the Third Thursday schedule for the rest of the year to whet your writing palate.
What do you like or hate most about working on first draft?
Keith enjoys the thrill of the brand new canvas and brand new idea. His recent story started with a single character he loved. The first draft was a way to figure out why he liked the character. It helped him structure the plot. “He’s going to do this, so he’d better have that in there.” All the ideas didn’t stay in the story, but the major ones did.
Jacqueline reiterated the importance of finding what works for you. She tried outlining and other ideas from books about writing, but it felt forced. She did recommend John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, which emphasizes plot as the most important part of fiction. This lead her to share her favorite part of the writing process, experiencing the click when something fits. For example, one time she was pondering the plot of a book, simply sitting and exploring it, when “Click!” the solutions came to her.
Greg agreed with Jacqueline about not writing shoddy first drafts. It’s hard for him to change something once it’s on the page. He likes Robert Olen Butler’s idea of gestation, which is basically, “Don’t write anything until you’re ready to write (type) something.” He spends a lot of time thinking about what characters will do.
For many of his projects, Kip spends a lot of time reading about them. He read about 50 books for Chasing the Rodeo and three times that for the Floyd Patterson book. Writing, for him, is a matter of tapping into the narrative voice in his head, for both fiction and nonfiction. (He’s careful about who he tells that to.)
What tips do you have about the process of writing a first draft?
Kip cited writer & teacher Marilyn Harris’ advice of getting up as early in the morning as you can to write. He also mentioned Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer that mentions the idea of getting up early, before you can think, and dumping your ideas for the day. Kip shoots for 1,000 words a day between 5 am – 7am when he’s not thinking. Another author he knows has a goal of three pages per day, while another author liked to start writing at 10 p.m.
Greg pointed out that composing and editing require different parts of the brain, so if we put something away for a while we can come at it from a different angle. We can come at it as if we didn’t write it and approach it more analytically, which can be helpful.
Jaqueline twice had the luxury of going away for a bit. She got so much writing done because there was nothing else to do. So, if you can get away from everything and bore yourself into writing, that’s helpful. Also, she found the empty page threatening at beginning of career, but doesn’t anymore. (So there’s hope!) Finally, find a writing group. (Like the genre groups in the WLT.)
Keith also did the 4:30 in the morning thing on one of his books. It was hard to find a few more hours in a day. It was tough on his family because he was dead meat by 9:00 at night. His advice: Have a good time. Enjoy what you’re doing. It may or may not pay off. Enjoy the process. “Dig that, because it may not get past that.”
That’s it for this wrap-up. Remember there is no Third Thursday program in March, but you can still enjoy these WLT activities:
- Friday, March 11, 2001, PubCamp@SXSW at Caffe Medici: A free event examining the intersection between readers, writers, and technology.
- Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 7 PM – WLT Author Q&A at Book People with Tea Obrhet, author of The Tiger’s Wife.
Lexie Smith is a WLT member who enjoys connecting people with information through LexicalLight.com, BloggingForWriters.com and 64mascots.com. A University of Texas graduate, she taught middle school English and, until recently, homeschooled her children. She lives in Round Rock with her husband, five kids and two rescued Boxers.