The fast draft

Joan Didion, for no reason. I love the way this woman writes about driving in CA.

The fast draft novel rocks for several reasons:

  1. It compresses the agony of the first (and worst) stage of novel-writing into a month.
  2. It forces you to shape an arc for your POV character so that there is some kind of closure when you hit the end of the time frame/wordcount.
  3. It requires that you operate at the subconscious level, out of the story-killing zone of that pedantic bastard, the conscious mind.
  4. It fills you with self-assurance and satisfaction (unfortunately these wear off when you realize that only crap of the lowest order can be born of this process).

A long time ago, before I went the MFA route, I used to lurk on various LiveJournals maintained by writers of genre fiction. Many of these ladies were regularly turning out 1,500-2,000 words a day, and used counter widgets to keep themselves accountable. My sense of it is that the projects were generally mapped out in advance and then written to spec, meaning that the author just had editing and cleanup to deal with at the end.

This process seemed sound to me at the time, and I was shocked – shocked! –to discover that it just didn’t work for me. Advanced planning is not fruitful for me. Sure, I sometimes know what the climax of a story is, or its ending, but these ladies use detailed, beat-by-beat outlines. … No. Not for me. I did train myself to be able to produce at that volume for short periods of time (my average writing night, when not working on a fast draft, is closer to 500 words).

For me, the real value of a fast draft is in figuring out what a story is about.

Pragmatism rules with genre fiction writers, and I could see them with their *headdesks* and *facepalms* over such a stupid-sounding thing as figuring out what the story is about. But that is one of the most important questions in story-writing. Back in the spring, Rick Moody spoke to our class, and I believe he said something to the effect that the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction was three drafts. That stuck with me (sort of…he might have said eight drafts or six…).

But I think he’s right. And it’s not a matter of making what Carol Bly calls literary fixes. The biggest slog in writing is in the middle phase of revision: trying and trying to get a handle on what the story is and how to make it more like itself (to use a phrase Bly and others often conjure).

This month I started another fast-draft novel. I was so good with my word count for the first nine days, and then work deadlines and a family thing came up and I struggled to find the time. By way of accountability, I wanted to be at about 22,000 words today, and I’m actually at 19,000. It sucks, but that’s how it goes.

I’ll report back from time to time: the end goal is 50K, and I will get there.

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