If I wasn’t already convinced that there are many different ways to write novels this quote from Cynthia Leitich Smith would clinch it for me:
it is a regular part of my process to write a full novel draft, print it to read once, and then I throw1 it away and delete the file. Really. It’s my way of just getting to know the characters and their world. If I were to build on those first, fumbling efforts, my stories would have pretty shaky foundations. I’m not saying this is for everyone. Some folks can fully envision their work right out of the chute. But me, I figure whatever survives when I open the new document deserves a fair shot. Whatever doesn’t . . . doesn’t.
Oh. My. Elvis.
And, yet, I can kind of see where she’s coming from. My first drafts are pretty shaky foundations. I just prefer the security of having them to having nothing at all. As I demonstrated in this post, my first drafts are often vastly different to my finished books. They can change points of view, or whether they’re told in first person or third or whatever. Characters’ motivations, names, ages—everything can change. I throw huge chunks away. Not a lot of the first draft survives into the final.
But throwing a whole novel out?
What if I just wound up writing another shaky first draft? Do I throw that one out too? And start over again? Couldn’t that go on forever?
On the other hand, my first drafts are a lot better than they used to be. So maybe if I adopted this strategy, they’d improve even faster?
It also occurs to me that it might be a really good strategy for making my short stories work. I’ve got kajillions of broken short stories. What if I started over from scratch on the promising ones? I’m a much better writer than I was last time I attempted to write one.
Hmmm . . .
Yet throwing an entire novel away? Deleting the file?! My brain it hurts! My eyes they bleed! Gah!
Also what about the historians? What about tax deductible donation of your papers to a library collection? I hear some of them even pay for such things. How do you donate them if you throw them away?! Think of posterity!
Deep breaths, Justine, deep breaths. There are many different ways to write a novel. Also not everyone is into donating their work to libraries. Quit thinking like an historian.
*Am I the only one who finds that expression “different strokes for different folks” vaguely obscene?
- I’m sure she meant into the recycling. [↩]