Tuesday, May 15, 2018

5 Reasons Your First Draft Hates You

By Florence Gonsalves, @florencefornow

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Many writers have a love/hate relationship with their first drafts, and often, that relationship depends on how well the draft is going at the time. Please help me welcome Florence Gonsalves to the lecture hall today to share five (fun) reasons why your first draft hates you.

Florence graduated from Dartmouth College in 2015 with a major in philosophy. Upon getting her diploma, she promptly abandoned Kant and after numerous jobs and internships pursued her lifelong dream of becoming a novelist. Her debut novel, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants, releases today.

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Take it away Florence...

1. You don’t hate it nearly enough.

A first draft is a needy and rebellious teenager. It doesn’t register wishy-washy emotions and it can sense that you’re not really committed to your hatred of it. Sure you insult it, but it hears the questioning in your scolding. Give your first draft some credit for its perceptiveness. Of course it registers a bit of your secret wondering: “Is this kind of good?” “Are parts of this salvageable?” And that won’t do. A first draft requires fireworks and passion, but you’re only hating it enough to give it a small and persistent inferiority complex, one that stunts its growth and makes it hate you because…

2. You don’t love it nearly enough.

Sorry, but you don’t. A first draft wants to piss you off, but it also wants you to love it because it is a fragile and precious toddler whose well-being depends on your sweet, tender love. Your first draft wants you to be proud of it and think the sun shines out of its Word Document. It wants to be the light of your life, but it senses that it’s failing you, that your love is not unconditional. It starts to feel neglected and that makes it want to crumple up into a ball and throw itself into a fire because…

3. You leave it alone too much.

And then you wonder why it has a hard time showing up for you. Give your first draft some consistency! Never go weeks on end without checking in, even if it’s just to say, Hello, darling. I love you and hate you at the same time! Preferably feed and water your first draft daily (or perhaps nurse, depending on the type of first draft you’ve birthed) and be consistent. A first draft is kind of a cow. It doesn’t just prefer routine, it thrives on it, until you become an overzealous caretaker and…

4. You make everything about you.

Guess what. A first draft isn’t about you at all. It’s not about how good of a writer you are, or how bad. It’s not about what you want the story to look like, or who you want the characters to be, or what you want them to say. Your first draft is its own freaky organism and it needs you to back up and cheer it on while it does its thing. I know, I know, this is really hard, but at some point, just to switch up the metaphor, a gardener has to let their darling go freely into the garden: up a wall, into the bird bath, on holiday with an earth worm…Step back. Get your ego out of your first draft’s way. Stop doing that thing where…

5. You deprive your first draft of its destiny.

Literally. You try to make it a superstar, but a first draft is meant to be truly terrible. What your first draft needs most is your permission to be really cringe-worthily bad. To do that, you need to send your inner perfectionist on vacation. Now you listen to me, Jessica, you say. (It helps if you name the judge-y perfectionist inside you). I’m gonna need you to sit this one out because I’ve got something horrible in the making, and I can’t have you trying to clean up the mess before the mess is done making itself, but here, let me get you a tea while you wait (Don’t alienate your Jessica. She will help you later in final drafts when you need some critical distance and a ruthless appraisal of your work).

With the permission granted to write the worst draft you are humanly capable of, you will adequately hate your first draft while also adequately loving it. Your ego will have taken its necessary seat at the back of the bus, and you will have the capacity to show up for your first draft the way it needs you to. And that’s how it will start to love you.

About Love and Other Carnivorous Plants

Freshman year at Harvard was the most anticlimactic year of Danny's life. She's failing pre-med and drifting apart from her best friend. One by one, Danny is losing all the underpinnings of her identity. When she finds herself attracted to an older, edgy girl who she met in rehab for an eating disorder, she finally feels like she might be finding a new sense of self. But when tragedy strikes, her self-destructive tendencies come back to haunt her as she struggles to discover who that self really is. With a starkly memorable voice that's at turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants brilliantly captures the painful turning point between an adolescence that's slipping away and the overwhelming uncertainty of the future.

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  1. Fun! Now, how about a post on why rewrites hate me...

  2. Florence, believe it or not, this post of yours made me feel better about this first novel I'm writing. Thank you.

  3. Wow. This is one of the most simply fun pieces I've seen here, and I've been watching Janice's blog for years. Hope we'll see you again, Florence.