In offering up T. S. Eliot’s words from his poem “East Coker” as my end-all/be-all comment re writing First Drafts, I’m risking the obvious.
Eliot’s words say it all, literally and - believe it or not, figuratively.
“In the beginning is the end.”
It’s a Writer’s Sampler sentiment if ever there were one.
Author Harriette Robinet, a member of my very first Writers Group, shared essentially the same thought when she exhorted us weekly, wagging her index finger: “Just keep on writing 'til you get to The End!”
I’ve been writing First Drafts from beginning to THE END in various formats and genres since
Here’s what I recommend to keep you keepin’ on while (not 'til) you complete your First Draft.
• Fall in love with your characters before you ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Loving them makes abandoning them impossible.
• Keep a Writer’s Notebook handy to capture anything that could stop you from writing forward – i.e. a random thought, a nagging worry or concern, a sub-plot possibility, a fact that needs verifying.
• Speaking of writing forward, if the right word refuses retrieval, if a character name gives you pause, if you can’t conjure up the exact words your characters might speak, bracket the space on the page and summarize what’s missing, knowing you’ll return once you reach THE END, and keep on goin'!
• The above advice pertains to scenes, too. You know what needs to happen – the Who, the When and Where, the How – but your Muse is refusing to give it up. Bracket, summarize the scene with a title, and keep moving forward.
• And speaking of scenes, end your day’s or night’s writing by stopping in the middle of one. That way you can easily continue writing when you return to your manuscript, especially if you visualize that scene before you fall asleep.
• And speaking of bedtime, try this: state your nagging story question, then invite your brain to work on the answer while you’re catching 40 winks. Don’t open your eyelids in the morning until you hear/see/feel the answer.
• Immerse yourself fully in the story by re-reading a few pages from the previous day’s efforts. Don’t edit, mind you, even though it’s tempting because it feels so good. The goal’s to keep on writing to THE END.
• Sometimes give yourself permission to jump ahead in your story, if a down-the-road consequence or reaction makes itself known; other times note the future scene, by title, summary, time-line, in your Writer’s Notebook.
- If stuck, substitute your Reader’s Hat for your Writer’s Chapeau. Ask yourself: what question is my reader asking here and now?
- If still stuck, take your camera’s eye away from your character and focus on a sub-plot.
• Though tempted, DO NOT SHOW YOUR MANUSCRIPT PIECE-MEAL (i.e. Chapter by Chapter) TO YOUR WRITER’S GROUP. Why not? You’ll likely then be re-writing, instead of writing forward. Offering an entire manuscript for a complete reading guarantees a thoughtful, comprehensive reading. Second best? Offer chapters that comprise an Act.
It goes without saying: reaching your First Draft’s conclusion deserves and warrants a backslap, applause and a glass of your favorite Chardonnay and/or a stop by your local Ben and Jerry’s.
Then, and only then, print out a hard copy of your First Draft, tuck it away in a drawer, experience (normal) withdrawal, miss every single High and Low you experienced writing your story; then, after, say, 3 or 4 weeks, dust both you and your First Draft off. Now that you know the story your characters needed to live, breathe and tell you, begin again, telling that story to your readers.
I promise you: this time around, your end will be in your beginning, which likely will start some 3 chapters in. :)
Never, I repeat, NEVER! discard your First Draft. In fact, be sure to make time during your revisions to re-visit it and re-read it quietly. Everyone and everything that brought you to the story will be waving “Hey!” and showing off their gold.
Cross-stitch these bon mots for further encouragement:
"More powerful than the will to win is the courage to begin."
- Source unknown
“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“In every phenomenon, the beginning remains always the most notable moment.”
- Thomas Carlyle.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
- Louis L’Amour