I cracked forty percent on this draft of ‘Mike Sierra Echo,’ my space elevator adventure novel. Will it be the last draft? No idea; that’s what feedback is about. I’d love to think that this draft is the last draft, but let Uncle Jackson share some Writer Advice with you: Your First Draft Will Never Be Your Last Draft. Here’s why:
As a writer with no professional training, I’ve learned that while I have the ingredients of a storyteller inside of me, I don’t have the institutional and professional understanding of the storytelling game. I’ve had to learn everything the hard way, and perhaps you have, too. Nothing wrong with being a self-made storyteller, but I recognize that all these good will in the world won’t guarantee a book that everyone wants to read. After many years, I’ve come to understand that the best way to see your writing is to not see it as writing at all.
‘Don’t see your writing as writing? That’s crazy talk!’ you’ll say to me. But I’m serious, hear me out: Instead of thinking about your writing as ‘writing,’ think about your writing like a delicious stew. Everybody loves a good stew, right? Ultimate comfort food. At its very best, a stew is a complete one-dish meal packed with proteins and vegetables, cooked together slowly to let the ingredients permeate each other. The result is a meal with every bite filled with comforting flavor and tender texture. All good stews have the following components:
- The best ingredients
- The best temperature, usually low heat
Your writing also needs the best ingredients, the right temperature (level of effort to write) and time. How much of each? That’s for your beta readers and other feedback-givers to say. I can’t tell you. I know that’s frustrating to hear, but that’s all I can tell you based on my experience. Nobody has it down to a science and if anyone says they do, it’s because they’re trying to get rich selling you a ‘one simple trick’ writing program.
Now let me say – some writers can do a one-and-done draft. John Scalzi, for example, is a one-and-done guy. He’s freely said – he doesn’t have to do second drafts for the most part, since he’s drafting as he writes. Scalzi’s experience isn’t ours, John is coming from several decades of experience as a professional author. He isn’t making a stew, he IS the stew. All his nerdery, technical interest, audience engagement seeps out in his projects. Unless you have that level of institutional and professional writing experience, I wouldn’t expect you to come with a one-and-done novel project.
I told you all of that to tell you this: It’s okay if your first draft sucks. It’s okay if your first draft gets torn apart by your Beta Readers. That doesn’t mean your project sucks, it means your project isn’t ready for primetime yet. Accept that your first draft will simply get you through the door of ‘okay, you’re serious about this.’ Understand what your feedback is telling you about the project: does your stew need different ingredients, has it not simmered long enough, not enough heat?
One of these days, your project is going to be the delicious banquet you know it can be. I believe in you – you should believe in you, too.