On letting the first draft be chaotic


I’m reaching a point in my manuscript where things are starting to get messy. Which on one hand means I’m progressing. On the other hand it means that I’m becoming more and more aware of how vastly important a second draft is going to be once this first one is completed.

I stumbled across this gem while reviewing a chapter this morning:

Pockets of ments nestled into the mountain.

I have no idea what this sentence was ever supposed to mean. Did I mean “men”? If so, I can’t say the sentence makes any more sense. It’s not even really grammatically correct. Regardless of what it actually was intended to mean, it had me in laughing fits this morning, which is better than my normal reaction to blatant errors I find in my draft: self-loathing and panic, followed by the inevitable reverting back to chapters I’ve closed for further revision and agonizing over every sentence until I’ve overwritten everything into an unintelligible mess.

Maybe this means I’m starting to let go of my perfectionism. Nah, that character flaw is still very much in tact and just as debilitating as always. I think it’s something else: I’m beginning to understand the nature of a novel first draft a bit better. There are simply too many words written at this point; I can’t have as much control over each and every one like I’m used to having with short stories. At least not for this draft. I’ll have to save that for my second or even third. If I let my inner editor have free reign like I’ve allowed for the last seven years I’ve spent working on this particular project, no progress is actually going to be made. I can sit and stew over early chapters I’ve banged out for months and months, maybe even years, and make no strides within the story itself. That’s been my reality for the better part of a decade. Talk about frustrating.

My struggle all this time has been simply letting my first draft be chaotic and imperfect. It has been a massive adjustment. I’m still fighting myself on a daily basis. But there’s no way I am going to nail it right off the bat, and that’s okay. I have to keep telling myself that like a mantra. I know it’s true, but it’s just as difficult to swallow because that means a blow to my stubborn ego. That’s the problem with perfectionism.

But the coolest thing to come out of this gradual relinquishment of control is that I’m actually progressing the story’s plot! Character development is happening! I’m reaching points in my story I’ve only ever dreamed up in my mind or scribbled out vaguely on paper. This is a huge step in the right direction for me. I want to keep that momentum rolling. And if it means more “ments” in my first draft, so be it.

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