Once upon a time, my first official writing mentor read several chapters of my WIP and said, “You’ve lost the freshness. You waited too long to get back to this.”
After I removed the knife from my heart (and decided not to use it on her), I thought seriously about what she said. I went back and read the chapters I’d written much earlier and those I’d just given her. She was right.
It killed me to put that book aside, but I did. Then I wrote another one, laboriously, but with her cautionary words in mind. Eventually that book was contracted as my debut novel, but not after many significant revisions, during which I worried constantly about losing the freshness. Except for the weekend I ran away to write and cranked out about 20,000 words in three days: raw, fresh words full of emotion. Yeah, they required revision but they were full of life.
When I started my next project I wanted to try something different. I’d been intrigued by NANO but felt it was virtually impossible between day job, spouse, and spawn. Even if I couldn’t do NANO, I’d learned I could write fast, based on my crazy writing weekends, so I tried two new things: outlining and writing a super-fast first draft. I’d been collecting quotes and stories from writers who swore by crappy first drafts that preserved emotion and could be prettified later. I wanted to try it.
I wrote the first draft of the next book in three months and had a fabulous time. I didn’t stop to research or fiddle with the perfect turn of phrase. I churned out pages of swoony rom-com and watched the word count pile up quickly. When I started revisions, it was much less painful because the book still felt fresh. I was hooked on fast-drafting. Even more exciting, that book also sold.
You can guess what I did with my latest project – jammed out another first draft in about four months. Made notes of all the bothersome details to research later. Used “filler names” for minor characters and wrote notes to myself like, “Homecoming or Surfer Ball? Decide.” The deciding came later, after I captured the swooniness and the romantic tension and the laughter. Once you start riding that emotional roller coaster with your characters, you can’t get off. Well, you can, but you abandon them mid-scream and who wants to do that?
As writers everywhere gear up for NaNoWriMo, I’m sending them lots of good vibes. I’m a convert to the benefits of fast first drafts and so grateful I tried it. Every writer has to figure our her own process, and it took me a long time to learn mine. I’m constantly tweaking my process and I write up notes after each project about what I learned, and what I’ll do differently next time.
It’s hard to look at a labor of love and wonder if you’ve lost the freshness that excited you in the first place, to decide to put a project aside, maybe forever. Sometimes I still think about that book I put aside. Maybe I’ll pick it up and try again, maybe not. If I ever do give it another go, you can bet I’ll write it fast.
If you’re one of those writers who struggles with finishing manuscripts, constantly going back to edit what you’ve already written, consider trying a fast draft. You might discover that sometimes the hare does beat the tortoise. And nothing feels better than typing “The End.”