First Draft Salvage-The Newly Born Manuscript

photo credit: elm3r via photopin cc

photo credit: elm3r via photopin cc

I finished it, finally. The first draft, that is- wrote the first sentence somewhere in June 2013, finished the last sentence in September 2014, said something like “the end” which sounds a little bit like “amen” and called it done. Then, like all the writing advice says to do, I pushed it aside and didn’t look at it for a few weeks and congratulated myself. It felt good. I wrote a book.

Congratulations felt cheap though. I mistakenly mentioned it to a few of my friends, who reacted the way anyone would act when a friend told them they (finally) finished the book they’ve been working on.

And I told them No, you can’t read it.

Because it’s not ready, that’s why. It’s ghastly.

It’s hard to admit that to those who don’t choose this life. They don’t understand. But I’ll try to explain.

Ninety percent of what I choke up on the laptop is utter crap. The remaining ten percent is workable, sometimes it’s even good- this ten percent is what fuels the rest of the drive to get it done. It’s gonna be great; it’s gonna be a best-seller, it’s gonna make that dipshit I knew back in the mailroom/homeroom/work release puke with envy. Actually, that isn’t true. The only reason I finished it is because my mentor made me finish it. TGFD (thank god for deadlines). The base thought is true enough, though. If it weren’t for the ten percent of the “unh…it’s okay, I guess” work that gets done, there would be nothing, only a sad little woman tangled up in blankets on the couch watching Hell’s Kitchen, and thinking maybe she should have been a chef instead because getting publically humiliated by Gordon Ramsay would be so much better than trying to be a writer.

The first draft is the ugly newborn of the literary world. Unlike mothers, who take prenatal vitamins, avoid sushi and alcohol, and play soothing classical music in hopes of saturating their fetus with the mysterious benefits of orchestral music; writers bathe their creative thoughts in vodka, wasabi flavored almonds, and self-deprecation. Like a newborn baby, the first draft is raw, wrinkled, unable to function beyond expelling shit and spit up. But, like a baby, it’s a miracle in its own right. You can gaze lovingly at the GB space it took up on your flash drive and squeal, “I made this!” Yet as any parent knows, the hard work is yet to come. And oh dear lord, it is going to be hard.

So, I pushed my sleeves up, pulled my rubber hip boots on, and dove in. That is, I downloaded it all to Scrivener and started wading through the piles and piles of metaphorical feces I put into this first draft. It was as bad as I thought, it really was, and is, because that is my life right now, dividing the draft into “what the hell does this even mean?” and “possibly worth saving” sections. I’m half way through it. It’s soul sucking work, and holy shit, the family better be an understanding bunch this phase.

Back to the baby metaphor- LIKE A baby…the first draft needs a lot of love. It may be time to tuck that vodka back into the liquor cabinet because that baby is going to need your full attention now. No more of this “I’ll go back and fix that” stuff, because we’re in the back back outback now. It’s going to need coddling. Muscle development. Encouragement and praise. The thing is going to need medical attention. As unpleasant as it is to watch your newborn baby get five vaccinations in row–it’s downright heartbreaking to see the fruit of your loins cry in pain and confusion as that bitch of a nurse jabs needle after needle into her unsusupecting chubby little legs–you do it because you know the baby will be stronger and healthier because of it. Because you’re a good mom, and that’s what good moms do. Same is true of the first draft. You’re a good writer, and by God, you’re going to give this little bastard of a manuscript the ass whooping it needs to stand on its own feet, lift its head high, and say REVISED and READ ME to the world.

This is what I am telling myself.

-AV Packard

October 20, 2014

What I’m reading now: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

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The Long and Short of It – and The First Post

Once upon a time in a rainy and cranky corner of the world called Tacoma, Washington, a little baby girl was born. She grew up in a happy home on the edge of a swamp that was more lovely than it sounds, despite the muck and mud and mosquitoes in the summer. It was quiet and serene, and because there were no other children who lived in the neighborhood, isolated and often lonely.

She grew up with books and barbies and dogs named Sam and Rache. She cut out pictures from magazines and pasted them in handmade books, either stapled or glued together, wrote captions, which were actually stories, and read them to whoever would listen, but no one really did, even though they thought it was cute.

In high school she continued to write, mostly short stories, some poetry, as teenage girls will do, and developed a liking to the encouragement and accolades, though small and unimportant, were really enormous and very important.

She graduated and realized, with an attitude too grown-up to be mature, that writing paid fuck all, and she would never be able to support herself with words.

She saw The Silence of the Lambs in a movie theatre, and decided to be a forensic biologist.

At Seattle University, in the thick of the city of wet pavement and grunge, she failed chemistry and got a “D” in biology. For this pleasure, she paid student loans, at $50 a month for several years. Chalked it up to “life experience” and developed a taste for cheap merlot wine.

She went to vocational school and became a pharmacy technician. For ten years. She still read books, sometimes, but they were often of the self-help kind.

A turn of events, a store transfer, She met the man of her dreams. And got married. And had a baby, and another, and another. For ten more years.

At this point, she wondered, where she went and who she was now. She wrote an essay about it.

She enrolled in an online school, Southern New Hampshire University, and earned a bachelors degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She applied to and was accepted to the MFA low-residency program from the same school. This required five trips to New Hampshire in two years.

She wrote a novel.

And she started a blog.


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