Your first draft sucks. Get over it.

I finished editing my first draft over the weekend, but it didn’t feel like much of an achievement. I wrote this novel, and started this blog, because I wanted to take writing much more seriously. This first edit is one step on a very long journey.

With that being said, as I move onto the structural edit, here’s what editing the first draft has taught me:

#1 The first draft always sucks

Even good first drafts suck. I love the characters I created, and I got caught up in some of the prose. There were moments where the plot made my heart stop, but there were also moments where I cringed. I needed to rewrite the first and last three chapters. I needed to add a chapter in the middle. I deleted thousands of words and added words back in. I used far too many metaphors and had to cut them back. I love my story, but that first draft still sucked.

To put it another way: “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” (Smiley, n.d.) [1]. A good novel is made in the editing, and you’ll be hard pushed to find any published author who will tell you otherwise. 

#2 Set a deadline and get it done

Participating in NaNoWriMo helped me establish a writing routine. I wrote every day because I had a deadline. I got it done. Writing a first draft is about getting something down on the page that you can refine later. Writing the first draft is all about conquering that voice in your head that says you can’t write a novel or your work just isn’t good enough:

“Awful first drafts are fine. If you don’t finish something, you’ll never get in the game. Just quell the voice in your head that says ‘Are you kidding? No one is going to want to read this drivel’ and keep on going. You’re going to revise and revise and then revise again anyway.” (Freveletti, 2011, para. 10)

Author Hannah Mary McKinnon explains it’s this fear that holds many writers back, suggesting they’ve set their expectations too high for what the first draft should look like (2018, para. 2). Don’t worry – feeling like this is actually pretty normal. As Judy Blume explains: “I dread first drafts! I worry each day that it won’t come, that nothing will happen” (.n.d., para. 3).

All you have to do right now, is have something to work with later. You should also remember that not everyone works well with tidy plot outlines and chapter synopses. It’s okay to be messy. Take Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, as an example: “the bottom line is that I like my first drafts to be blind, unconscious messy efforts; that’s what gets me the best material” (as quoted in Lee, 2011, para. 10). So just write the damn thing. Worry about tidying it up later. As Steven King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start” (p.269).

#3 Don’t edit while you write

I always edited my work while I was writing it, and I never got anything done! I never finished anything. The critic in my head destroyed all my self-confidence. When I wrote this novel, I did it in a month, so I had no time to edit. I came back to the novel three months later and I not only enjoyed reading it, but I wasn’t as emotionally invested in it. I no longer felt like cutting scenes was cutting out pieces of my soul.

Your first draft is about getting something down on paper that you can build on later. All you are doing is laying the foundations. Editing while you’re writing, for me, is a form of procrastination. I know I’m coming up to a tough scene when I feel the urge to stop writing and go back and edit instead.

There’s no point in editing while you’re writing the first draft, because you’re just going change it later. You’ll move scenes around. You’ll delete and rewrite scenes. That’s the fun part of editing; shaping your rough work into a polished story. As Neil Gaiman explains:

“The second draft is where the fun is. In a first draft, you get to explode. The objective (at least for me) is to get it down on paper, somehow. Battle through the laziness and the not-enough-time and the this-is-rubbish and everything else, and just get it written. Whatever it takes. The second draft is where you go and gather together the fragments of the explosion and figure out what it is you did, and make it look like that was what you always meant to do” (2008, para. 19)

You’re going to change what you’ve written, so don’t edit while you write. It’s a waste of time.

 

Have any tips of your own? Add them in the comments.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] This is often attributed to author Jane Smiley, however, I have not been able to find an accurate source for it.

 

 

References

Blume, J. (n.d.). Writing: Questions for Judy. Judy Blume on the Web. Retrieved from http://www.judyblume.com/about/questions/writing.php

Freveletti, J. (2011). Ten Tips I Received…and Sometimes Ignored. Book Country. Retrieved on 30th of October from http://blog.bookcountry.com/ten-tips-i-receivedand-sometimes-ignored-2/

Gaiman, N. YOU PUT YOUR (RIGHT-HAND REAR) LEG IN…Journal. Retrieved from http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/05/you-put-your-right-hand-rear-leg-in.html

King, S. (2010). On Writing. New York: Scribner.

Lee, S. (2011). Jennifer Egan on ‘Goon Squad’, ‘Los Angeles Times’ brouhaha, and her next novel. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from https://ew.com/article/2011/04/02/jennifer-egan-interview-goon-squa/

McKinnon, H. M. How to get through the First Draft of your Novel. Curtis Brown Creative. Retrieved from https://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/how-to-get-through-your-first-draft/

Smiley, J. (n.d.) Jane Smiley Quotes. Goodreads. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/812901-every-first-draft-is-perfect-because-all-the-first-draft

How to find time to write

A lot of people tend to be surprised at how much I do. Many people have commented on how busy I seem so I thought, given we’re coming up to NaNoWriMo again, I’d talk about how I actually find the time to to write 1700 words a day.

To set the scene, these are some of the things I regularly make time for:

Working full time as a lecturer. I teach 3 different courses, am the national coordinator for 2 courses and have been doing work in curriculum development.

Editing my novel. I wrote a novel and have been busy editing it (I finished editing the first draft just today!).

Research. I’ve been reading and researching my novel. That includes everything from reading other novels, to reading about plot structure and editing techniques. I’ve also been doing research into writing about mental illness and trauma (which I talked about at NYWF) and uses of artificial intelligence in the classroom (which I presented a research paper on for TEMC in September).

Me presenting at TEMC in September 2018

Creating digital work. I created a work called “this is what depression feels like” for NYWF and will be showcasing it at the Digital Writers’ Festival in November. It’s coded in HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

This blog.  Writing posts takes time. Planning and working with guest authors also takes time.

Volunteering. I’m volunteering for Perth Web Girls to help run coding workshops for women. The next one is Saturday the 3rd of November. I also volunteer on the WA Poets Inc committee.

So how do I find time to write? Well, I just do. When I was younger, I was meticulous about when and where I’d write. I needed a clean desk with new stationary, a nice notebook. I needed to go the beach and look out over the ocean, but it also couldn’t be too windy. It couldn’t be too hot. I couldn’t be tired, and it couldn’t be too loud. I started many novels, but never finished any of them, and I didn’t write very much at all. I was a student, and I wasn’t working, so I had the time to be fussy. Now I don’t.

That’s really all there is to it. I write whenever I get the chance to. If I have 15 minutes left on my lunch break, I’ll spend it writing. If I wake up early, I’ll spend an extra 20 minutes writing before getting ready. I might only have 5 minutes before my stop on the train. I’ll still write something, even if it’s just a few sentences. Time is precious and I have so little of it now. If I wait for the right time to write, I’ll never finish the novel. I just have to get something down on the page, so that a future version of me has something to cross out with red pen and curse over.

There’s really no secret to finding time to write. It’s all about busting the myth that a writing session has to be hours of you sitting alone with headphones in. 15 minute bursts can be just as productive.

 

Participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Track your progress and keep yourself motivated with David Seah’s word tracker.

Author Q and A: Jakob Boyd on politics, anarchy and building communities

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Laundry Man, also known as Jakob Boyd, is part spoken word poet, part anarchist and next month, he’s launching his first full length book.

I first met, Jakob when I was coordinating the WA Poetry Festival (now called the Perth Poetry Festival) for WA Poets Inc, but I didn’t get to know him until well after I stepped down from the committee. Jakob has published many zines, chapbooks (for both himself and others) and has (and continues to) run several events around Perth. He’s contributed a lot to building a community of young poets in Perth, which is something that wasn’t very prominent when I first got involved in 2011.

Jakob’s poetry is raw and confronting. His performances are like heated arguments and he’s not afraid to use silences to make you feel uncomfortable. This week I talked to him about the differences in his print and performance work, as well how poetry can have a political impact.

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Jakob Boyd’s first full length collection, City Without Stories, will be launched by Scott-Patrick Mitchell on the 3rd of November.

Do you think poetry can have a political impact? How much does the community around poetry and the sharing of poems define this impact?

As poets, I think we’ve all got this fantasy where we walk up to a president, a prime minister, a line of riot cops or a billionaire CEO and read a poem so earth shattering they turn against their systems of destruction, renounce their power and start a revolution… but for me, this isn’t where the impact of poetry is.

Poetry has a unique ability to unite communities that intersect between fringe art scenes, activist circles and disenfranchised groups. These communities exist in solidarity against an indifferent culture of spectacle that limits our political power. At open mics, people who would otherwise just pass each other on the street, share their deepest, loudest and strangest desires, passions and demands for a new world.

If ‘dominant culture’ restricts communication, strangles identity and limits our ability to collect as individuals – poetry communities can do the opposite. Build flexible, communal cultures that empower and strengthen.

Poetry isn’t a means to an end, it’s an end in itself; communities building cultures, rather than being subjects of them. And if we give everyone room, and knock each other’s socks off; folks will stick around and be inspired to spread these revolutionary cultures to everywhere else in their lives.

Politics is filled with language that can be quite the opposite of what we expect from poetry, do you struggle to incorporate this language into your poems and reconcile the two?

Man, tough question… I guess if the poet’s job is to make clear the unexplainable, then we should focus our efforts on policy documents, annual budgets, immigration legislation and negative gearing rather than just your everyday ennui. So yeah, in a more political poem, I do struggle trying to reconcile the two but you gotta keep going I guess; describe the impact of these jargons, boil them down to their essence, point out their ridiculousness.

Laundry Man performs ‘Another Flag’:

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should one have to work hard to “solve” the poem?

I don’t think so. Sure a poem can be a puzzle, but it should be fun to solve. Poetry shouldn’t be a magic eye picture where, if you stare at it long enough, you get a fleeting moment of recognition. Don’t make your poem an IQ test. This thinking is why, to the vast majority, poetry is dead; coz everyone thinks it’s a labyrinth. When really, good poetry is more like a rollercoaster!

I like to play around, twist things on their head, make metaphors that lead nowhere… but this is for PLAY, not for obscurity. Each line should flick on a light in the reader’s/listener’s heart, each line should have weight, be direct, be clear. Poetry should be entertaining. It should provoke thought the way music provokes dancing.

You have a book coming out soon, congratulations! Do you think there is a difference between performance poetry and written poetry? Have you struggled to move between the two, given you are, predominately, a performance poet?

I like to think that poetry on the page is ‘performed’ through ink and white space the way poetry on the stage is ‘performed’ through sound and silence. It’s all poetry. On the stage it’s like music. On the page, it’s like painting. You can lean in to certain things on stage, like repetition, monologue & dialogue, emphasis. A rhyme or a flow sounds better on stage than it sounds in your head.

On the page you can be more subtle, more stark, more reflective. The poem can work on its own time without the temporal pressure of the stage.
But both can have electricity and dynamism. It’s all about playing to the strengths of the medium; figuring out ways of provoking thought.
Most of the works in the book were originally designed for performance (like all language?) but I’ve never found it too tricky making them work for the page with some minor chops and changes. Recontextualising….
                                                     and lots of enjambment…

You’ve run a lot of events in Perth which have helped support young and marginalised writers. Do you think the industry as whole is making more space for these voices?

It’s getting there? Spoken Word Perth, the nucleus of a huge boom of Perth poetry in the past couple years, is run entirely by women and trans folk. The champions and finalists of Perth Slam are almost always queer poets, non-binary folks and people of colour. This year saw the return of the multi-lingual, multi-faith workshop & showcase ‘Common Ground’ (go check them out). More gigs are making efforts to be physically accessible. More gigs and promoters are taking efforts to exclude abusive motherfuckers. From what I understand, it’s a lot less male dominated, a little less white, than it was just a few years ago. I grew up with posters for local poetry gigs on the walls, and the names are almost all dudes. These days, most poetry features you see, especially in the younger crowd, are much much more diverse. I think there’s been some huge leaps forward in the past couple years.

But there’s still problems… I like to think I do what I can… but I’m one of the major promoters in town and I’m a white dude, so there’s ultimately very little I can do for voices less privileged than my own. There are no gigs in town dedicated to people of colour. The Perth Poetry Festival often makes little room for voices and perspectives outside of it’s old white bubble.

I dunno. I’m not the best person to ask.

Let’s see where it goes in the next couple years…

What local poets/writers should we be reading/listening to?

All of them. Except the dickheads.

But if you see these names featuring at gigs, get on it, these are the big-hitters on the spoken word scene in 2018:

Jesse Oliver, Saoirse Nash, Luka Buchannan, Taonga Sendama, Nadia Rhook, Maddie Godfrey, Daniel Hansen, Fable Goldsmith, Neil Smith and C.V The African Spice.

Watch them now: 

Jesse Oliver, a trans poet and the 2017 Australian Poetry Slam Champion, performs “Designer Soulmates”

Fable Goldsmith performs “I found you” which has a content warning for suicide

What events should I be going to in Perth and why?

It depends what you like! If you want a solid open mic – Spoken Word Perth. If you wanna win cash for a cracking poem – Perth Slam.

If you want top notch spoken word acts and local music, there’s my gig Dirtymouth at Mojos Bar. If you want weird shit – Noizemachin, Outcome Unknown and CYt.

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If you want crazy DIY backyard music & art goodness, keep an eye on Jugular and HaXa House.

Check these out on the social media void and get out ya diary.

 

 

 

Laundry Man aka Jakob Boyd is a performance poet, visual artist, indi-publisher and gigmaker. Raised by anarchists in Perth’s radical art scene, Laundry Man has appeared at events, shows and festivals in Perth and around Australia including at NYWF, High Tide Fremantle, Southbound, FRINGE WORLD 2018, Perth Poetry Festival, Crack X, HaXa House and in the band ‘Blow Jobs & Growth‘.


He’s organised and co-run a myriad of DIY events and projects currently including Dirtymouth Music and Poetry, Perth Slam, Hectic Measures Press and a variety of illegal music parties. Jakob has been published in Cordite 52, Street Light Press 12, OUTinPerth and by Mulla Mulla Press.


City Without Stories is Jakob’s first full length poetry collection. Out through Indifference Publications, City Without Stories collects five years of playful, dark and energetic verse in a semi-autobiographical odyssey through fast food kitchens, nihilistic suburbs, modern romance and the depths of Perth’s counter-culture; a punk-poets call to action to build our own culture from the ground up.

Find Jakob on social media:

facebook.com/laundrymanpoet
Instagram – @laundrymanpoet

NaNoWriMo 2018

Next month is NaNoWriMo and I have an idea for a novel.  I’ve had this idea since NaNoWriMo 2017 and have been running through different storylines in my head for almost a year. I’m keen to do NaNoWriMo again this year, despite the lack of time I have available and how overworked I am. I set myself one deadline in order to be able to participate; I want to finish editing the first draft of last year’s novel before I start the next one. I have 30,000 words left to edit, and about 3 weeks to do so.

My goal this year is 2000 words a day (I averaged 1700 words a day last year). My novel, which I’ve optimistically already registered, is called …but Anna Sparks is dead? Here’s a rough synopsis:

Anna Sparks is no ordinary human. She was the first human to encounter life in space, and it terrified her. After seeing how this alien technology has destroyed and corrupted other civilisations, Anna vows to stop people on earth from ever getting their hands on it. But Anna cannot be trusted. Anna embodies the very technology she’s protecting everyone from. Some people call them superpowers, but her ability to control the things around her is a technological enhancement she gained during the last great intergalactic war, a war she tried to stop and couldn’t. Now she battles to keep the fighting away from her home. But Anna Sparks dies, and everyone sees it. So when earth is invaded, how is she the one who tries to save it?

This novel obviously has a lot more science fiction elements than The Black Swan Experiments, which is the novel that inspired me to start this blog. My original plan for this novel was to have Anna as the sidekick to a male who was the first human to encounter life in space. If I’m honest, it was watching Doctor Who that make me question why Anna had to be the love interest. I realised I had no good reason for keeping her as the love interest to a male character, especially when all of the action revolves around her choices.

Another big inspiration for this novel was Captain Cook. I was in Newcastle recently for the National Young Writers’ Festival, and, at the foot of the public library, were stairs commemorating the bicentenary of his exploration, charting and claiming of the east coast of Australia. It made me think a lot about colonisation (how is there a statue that commemorates the slaughter and takeover of a whole race of people?!), and I really want this to be a big part of my novel. My intention is for the alien race to act as the coloniser, with them having technology that we, the colonised, cannot possibly compete against. I’ve been very careful in planning how this is narrated, as I don’t want to talk outside of my experience or create something that could be insensitive. I can’t explain that in more detail right now though, because I’d giving away a huge twist in the book.

While there are a lot of science fiction novels which explore colonisation already (with War of the Worlds being one of the more notable examples), I want to explore it in a slightly different way. In every war there’s a side who doesn’t win. What would a novel be like if you followed the same characters the whole way through, thinking you were on the winning side, only to reach the end and realise you were wrong? I want the final chapters of this book to be written from the antagonist’s perspective, and I want the antagonist to be the winner of the war. It’s someone else’s voice, someone else’s story. Maybe it’s told through newspaper clippings and found documents. Maybe it’s first person narration. What matters is that the narrative everyone in the story world comes to remember, the way history gets written in the world of the book, is completely different to everything you’ve just been told by the previous narrator. That isn’t to say that the previous narrator was unreliable; what they told you was their experience of the war. They just aren’t in a position of power to have that experience acknowledged. History is written by the side that wins, and it’s the winner’s story that concludes the book.

Anyway, I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll be exploring colonisation in fiction in more detail (with references!) in later blog posts. In the mean time, watch this space for updates on my NaNoWriMo preparation and progress. I also have an author Q and A with the Laundry Man (AKA Jakob Boyd) coming your way soon. I’ll be interviewing some fantastic guests over the next few months, so make sure to visit often.