Posts Tagged ‘drafts’
Every now and then, I’m reminded that some writers push the “there’s no such thing as writer’s block” onto other, struggling folks. I’ve heard “You only have writer’s block if you’re boring” by writing instructors, which only serves to make people feel bad about their struggles. I’ve also heard “There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” which is a bunch of dismissive claptrap.
I’ve even heard this compared to dentistry a number of times in the past two years — I wish I could find the writer that started that meme and verbally knock some sense into that person, because that’s a load of bullshit. Writing isn’t a job purely involving diagnosis, rote tasks, and reactions. (No belittling to dentists here; I certainly couldn’t do your job, either, but it’s not the same damn thing.)
Point is, it’s better the demystify the writing process by accepting that people have problems at times rather than shame them for having those problems. So, if you want to learn how to get around writer’s block, that’s a long road and different folks had different tactics, but there are some common threads.
I, for one, used to deal with that when I was younger, in a way I now recognize as fear-based paralysis. I saw the blank page, and nothing I would write would feel as good as was in my head. The trick there is to become comfortable with acceptance — the first draft won’t be good, and that’s okay. A lesson I learned recently from Kit La Touche is that writer’s block is often about being unwilling to make a decision: “The beautiful thing about making decisions is that, once you’ve made them, you can evaluate them, and change them if need be. if you never make them, then you can’t do that.”
A couple years back, writer’s block came from neurochemical imbalance — my untreated anxiety would lock my mind up and attempting to write when I didn’t have a clear idea what to write would give me a massive headache. Once I started getting treatment, I was able to do my job again. But man, while I was in that state, being told that writer’s block didn’t exist, or that I was boring, all that shit, that just gave me cause to beat myself up. Which is why I’m keen to tell people who throw that at other writers to keep that crap to themselves. It might give you some confidence in your work, but that’s no reason to erode someone else’s.
So, friends, how do you deal with writer’s block? How do you demystify it?
After talking about second drafts last week, let’s dive into first drafts! We all know the whole deal about how first drafts will always be shitty, right? That’s writer 101. If you don’t believe that, then I don’t know what to tell you. Don’t get into writing. :)
But that doesn’t stop us from questioning what we’re writing. Sometimes when we allow ourselves to “write shitty,” we’re focused on being okay if a sentence sucks or is unclear and we move on, knowing that either it’ll get fixed or cut in revision. But when it comes to ideas that take a lot of words — 500, 1000, 2500, whatever — there’s a sense of commitment that we believe we’re creating in putting that work in.
And then we start questioning that commitment. “What if this idea sucks?”
In this first draft I’m working on, I had that thought a few times. “What if presenting the setting as vignettes totally missing the shit out of this?” “What if these rules totally suck?” “What if…” all over the place.
Part of the HK-TK experiment was to make myself write in spite of that feeling. The game, as I assumed and found out in the first playtest, is broken as fuck (which I still need to blog about). But if that stops the writing process, then writing would never get done. I wouldn’t have found out what does work, why some things don’t, and build off of that.
Which is why I’m writing this. You need to bullshit your way through that first draft. You need to accept that some of the ideas that you feel like you’re committing to will be wrong, but you need to write it because you won’t know which will be wrong, and you won’t know why some things work and some things won’t. Be bold; press on and be willing to bullshit.
Because that’s what every writer does. It just doesn’t look like total bullshit because of revision, peer review, beta readers, editing, all that work. But I assure you, a first draft is born of bullshit.
How do you bullshit? When you come to a point in your writing where you need to make a decision, just make one. Then write on from there, until you need to make another decision, and just make that one as well. Keep going. Don’t pause to muse on one and turn it into a catalyst of procrastination. To quote the brilliant Kit La Touche: “The beautiful thing about making decisions is that, once you’ve made them, you can evaluate them, and change them if need be. if you never make them, then you can’t do that.”
Oh, and if you want to know more about the bullshit process that is writing (and I say that with love, else I would not keep doing this), you should devour the shit out of Chuck Wendig’s blog & books on writing. But I’m going to assume you’re doing that already. :)
 One of my favorite bits about this comes from Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird, her chapter on Shitty First Drafts. My magazine writing teacher years ago had us read this, which caused me to get the book.
If you’re a writer looking to be published, second drafts are a way of life. But to new writers, there a bit of confusion about what a second draft actually is and what you should be doing with it. Since I’m about to tackle the second draft of a project, I figured I would share my thoughts.
First of all, let’s start with what a second draft isn’t. It is not just taking what you’ve written in the first draft and doing some light copyediting. That’s the lazy high school approach to a second draft, and it doesn’t work in the real world unless your first draft is 95% on the mark already.
During your first draft, you’ll discover ideas that you didn’t have in your outline or (if there’s no outline) initial thoughts that triggered whatever you’re writing. It could be that you’re writing an essay piece and you have come to a somewhat different conclusion — that happens sometimes when you’re making your thoughts more concrete by the process of writing them down. It could be that some part of your fiction change because, now that you’ve seen it on paper, you see different problems and different solutions. Whatever it is, things happen between “I had an idea” and “the first draft’s done” that can change things.
That’s the point of a second draft. These ideas may come within a few minutes of putting pen to paper. They may come midway through the process. Perhaps some come right at the end. And often, they come after you’ve finished the draft have put it away for an hour, day, week, whatever. It’s usually all of these.
Those that come early are pretty easy to deal with. It’s those midway through and later that cause issues. No doubt you’ve seen people (maybe even yourself) write sentences that seem to have completely changed partway, as if the writer’s brain shifted to something totally different and didn’t realize it. That happens at different scales, where a sentence might show that change in thought, or two sections are contradictory because one is based on an earlier idea and wasn’t changed in that first draft. When you have new ideas midway through, you’re going to have vestigial pieces.
The ideas that happen after you shelve it and your mind starts processing it in the background can only happen after the first draft is done. So naturally those can only happen after that’s over.
But the biggest benefit I see between first and second drafts is that of voice. Voice is key in text; it’s what gives a piece flavor & emotional resonance that will connect with a reader beyond just transmitting facts. Frankly, when it comes to RPG text, voice is one of the most powerful tools in getting people to remember whatever the hell your rules are. And voice is something that gets discovered over time.
Part of the reason I have had to rewrite a lot of Mythender is because of voice. Early drafts were technical & purely procedural — playtest stuff. Then I wrote drafts that were trying to be serious, an RPG text that was also trying to be like a saga. That was the wrong voice, one I wasn’t having fun with. The most recent voice, that of, well, me when I’m GMing the game, is the one that’s right for it. But it took writing it dry (so I knew the content) and writing it saga-ish (which, like any experience, taught me what worked and what didn’t) to get to where I am with the game.
And that’s what I saw as I went through Don’t Hack This Game submissions over the last few weeks. I had to reject some because they were effectively cleaned-up first drafts, devoid of voice. Voice is hard as hell to get right in the first draft when you’re not sure of the entire contents of said draft, and it needs that second draft to fully develop. And without that voice, you aren’t going to get anyone to give a fuck about your game, article, whatever, when there are plenty of people who do develop voice also producing great stuff.
I know some folks who do entire rewrites on second drafts. Others (like me) like to print out hardcopies and mark them the hell up with revision notes, so as to remove the temptation to nickel-and-dime revise as I’m going through. There are various ways of tackling the job, as long as you go from simple copyediting to examining the piece’s structure & voice, and making sure that from start to finish, it reflects your latest thoughts and doesn’t hold onto any old, erroneous stuff.
P.S. I rarely do a second draft of a blog post. When I realize one is crucial because my idea shifted, I tend to shelve it for days (or longer, with some remaining unfinished). But that’s partly because blogging is an exercise in Being Done, and no one is paying me to create fully polished text.
 Side note: defining by the negative first is one of those things I tell people to never do when I’m editing their work. It’s a specific tool. But that’s another post.