'The first draft will always be rubbish'
'Finished your first draft? Now comes the hard part'
'Writing is all about rewriting'
These are things I read again and again from other writers on blogs and in interviews and just about anywhere they let writers talk about writing and stuff. I'll be honest, I'm sick of hearing it. I'm not taking issue with the sentiment, but it's the kind of advice that's not particularly helpful when you're actually writing a first draft.
I'm writing a first draft at the moment. It's a tricky one - lots of characters, lots of exposition, lots of things that need to happen by certain points in the narrative. I've been doing a lot of editing as I go along, particularly on the first 30 pages which I must've gone back over and rewritten five or six times now. I've spent the last few evenings working on it pretty solidly, but my progress in terms of page count has been minimal - I think I was on 39 pages on Friday and by the end of last night I was on 42. It's been tough, but it feels like I'm making good progress and saving myself a lot of hassle further down the line. The last thing I want to hear right now is that the first draft is rubbish.
I'm going to try to put this in perspective. The fact is that script you're working on right now probably won't get made into a film. Even if the work is through a production company, even if it seems almost guaranteed, it's not guaranteed until you get on the set and even then...I'm sure you've heard all this before. The point is it probably won't happen. But you can't think that when you're writing. You have to be able to see it as a film and you have to believe it's going to be a film one day otherwise there's just no reason to do it. I've worked on things that I really haven't believed were going to be films and those jobs have always ended up going horribly wrong (ironically one of those is now in production, which shows what I know). And maybe this is something that only really relates to those of us writing unpaid in our spare time, because the sacrifice is greater. If I'm going to give up my free time outside the day job to sit at a computer then I have to believe it's worthwhile.
I think the same applies to the first draft. I know it will end up being rewritten. From my track record it's usually at least ten drafts before the thing is finished. Often it's more than ten. I'm not naively suggesting that this time, this one time, my first draft will be absolutely perfect. But right now, I need to believe that it is, because I can't put the hours in on something I know is ultimately going to be scrapped. And the fact is, the work you do in the first draft is some of the most important work you do. Contrary to popular belief, it's not all about rewriting. Some of it is about building a solid enough base so that when you do start to tear some of it down and rebuild your structure is still standing. That's why the first draft is important, and that's why I'm tired of people telling me it's inevitably going to be horrible.
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