November 11th, 2016

The First Draft Jungle

Christina Delay

In case you didn’t know, there’s a little thing called NaNoWriMo going on this month. It’s basically a month in which writers lose sleep, stop talking to their families, give up binge watching Netflix, and forget how to spell without Word’s autocorrect feature, all to meet a challenging word count of 50,000 words in 30 days. So, we’re writing a novel in a month.

A really horrible, crappy novel. (I’m not talking about those gold-fingered mythological writers whose turds smell like lavender. You guys suck.)

It’s November 11. You are 11 days into NaNoWriMo and this is the point you start wondering:

What the crap kind of story am I writing?

You may be tempted (or have already fallen into temptation) to stop your forward movement and, gasp!, edit.

Don’t. And I’ll tell you why.

I’m switching to metaphor mode, because I like metaphors and because I can. Go with me.

A few weeks ago, I hopped on a tiny boat on a river in Belize and speedboated for an hour to see some Mayan ruins. On the way, our guide told us a tale he heard from his grandparents when he was a boy.

Back then, Belize was very much a developing country. In many respects, it still is. Since Belize imports almost all their goods, they’ve had to be resourceful in meeting their day-to-day living needs. 50 years ago, our guide’s grandparents and parents were still going into the jungle for weeks at a time to forage for food and supplies to make soap.

And they came back with tales.

Tales of a city being swallowed by a jungle.

They were ignored.

The tales simmered into myth and local lore until about 1970, when the Canadian government and Harvard University took an interest.

Guess what?

There actually were cities being swallowed by the jungle.

What came next was years of excavating, slowly revealing the Mayan story that the jungle had hidden. A thousand-year-old empire that had been taken back by the jungle, until not even the tops of the tallest temples could be seen.

14910466_202050936871130_8954396248970871974_nIt’s so much like our first draft, don’t you think? So often, our story gets hidden behind the jungle of run-on sentences, under-developed characters, plot holes, and blah-writing. It takes a while before we, the author, can push aside the vines and dig through the dirt to discover the ancient treasures hidden inside our stories.

But we have to write them down, first.

The archaeologists who first came to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai didn’t put one foot down on land, then dig, put their other foot down on land, then dig, and so on. That would have been the most inefficient way to discover the story!

Instead, they walked the jungle, exploring before digging, and then stepped back and studied the big picture. They looked at the “first draft” in its entirety and only after understanding the scale of what they had to work with did they start excavating.

14939532_1572961589384542_2273558806849122624_oNaNoWriMers, you are drafting this month. You are writing the foundation of your story, but the first draft jungle is swallowing it up.

Let it.

Your story needs the vines to take hold and the roots to grow around it. Your story needs to be buried in warm, fertile soil. You story needs to be held safe in the cocoon of the jungle to be able to deepen the mystery.

Get the first draft out before you start excavating.

After NaNoWriMo, break out your story tools. Uncover your story once you take a step back and look at the vast empire you’ve created. Only then can you discover the true treasures: the deep conflicts, the twisted plot lines, thematic point of view, the heart of the story you are telling.

But for now, pull on your mosquito netting, lace up your hiking boots, and go back into the jungle.

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Are you doing NaNo? Is the jungle taking over? Report in your progress!

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ABOUT CHRISTINA:

14925645_202050833537807_5203280824926624433_n(http://www.christinadelay.com/) is the hostess of Cruising Writers (http://cruisingwriters.com/) and an award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. When she’s not cruising the Caribbean, she’s dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or writing the stories of the imaginary people that live in her heart.

About Cruising Writers

Cruising Writers brings aspiring authors together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor together on writing retreats. Go to France with us in April (http://cruisingwriters.com/retreat/southern-france-writing-retreat/) and stay in a historic chateau with Margie Lawson, agent Louise Fury, Shelley Adina, Kobo Writing Life, and Literary Translations. Or cruise with us to Grand Cayman (http://cruisingwriters.com/retreat/7-day-western-caribbean-writing-retreat-cruise-september-10-17-2017/) with Lisa Cron, Anglea Ackerman, agent Michelle Grajkowski, and editor Deb Werksman of Sourcebooks!

 

27 comments to The First Draft Jungle

  • Having been on one of your amazing cruises, I highly recommend it!

    Think about it people – you’re learning and working on ‘at sea’ days, then you step off the ship in paradise, party your guts out, then get back on the ship and get back to work.

    I met so many new friends, and had so much fun (not to mention FOOD!)

    I hated to dock at the end!!!!

  • Haha, I love the metaphors! And you are so right about not going back to edit. I’m working on a new novel and got 7200 words done in three days (contract demands! Oiy!). Sure, there’s some crap on every page, but I want to keep pushing forward because this story is TELLING me to get in paper–fast. Your post reminds me why I should ignore the teeny voices suggesting a little clean up on aisle one. Thanks for this one.

  • This is helpful and just what I needed to affirm me this morning. I’m busting through NaNoWriMo, creating a HUGE jungle because this week I’d MUCH rather be in my story than in this world. I started it kind of half-heartedly as a way to finish my WIP, but now it’s my lifeline. The jungle has been good for my soul and this affirms it. As an aside – WOW – when I get big and famous, can I be the writer on one of your cruisies??

  • I tried NaNo once when the timing was right to start a new work. Most of the time I find myself well into a manuscript or dealing with edits. However, no matter how hard I’ve tried (and I’ve written 20 books, so I’ve had lots of practice), I can’t write without editing. My NaNo manuscript was a mess, and I spent more time repairing it than I would have if I’d edited as I went.

    That being said, everyone has his/her own process, and it’s good to look at all the approaches available. I’ve also tried plotting in advance (and I think that’s very important for writing fast), but I haven’t been able to do that, either.

    • Christina Delay

      Terry, totally agree! Stay true to your process above all else. But, for those perfectionist authors out there that allow perfectionism to halt forward movement, those are the ones that need to go back to the first draft jungle and allow the words to flow!

  • jamesr403

    Excellent post! Thanks! I’m well into my new book, far enough that I’m asking “What is this all about?” If I understand what you are saying, I’ll figure it out later. Okay, back to the keyboard. To all of you doing NaNo — type faster! Good luck!

  • Thanks for this post. It sheds an entirely new light on NaNo for me. Love the metaphor–and Sharon Struth’s “clean-up on aisle two” one as well.

  • I’ve had tons going on this month, aside from just NaNo and the election. That being said… I’ve started scheduling my novel-writing time immediately after my morning meditation, and mostly just “stream-of-consciousness-ing” it.

    It has been incredibly cathartic, and I know that the blend of frustration, agony, politics, and the original story/theme I’ve had (almost) since the start is… Well, it’s actually coming together quite well. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m amazed that – not only am I keeping up – but I’m actually mostly staying ahead on my word counts.

    The urge to edit as I go is incredibly overwhelming, though. I keep reminding myself to let it be what it is for now, and THEN turn it into gold. Otherwise, I’m taking away its power to lead me out of my own brain.

    • Barbara – good on you for recognizing the need to get the words out. First drafts are the HARDEST…at least for me!

      • In my client-based work so far, my need for “2nd drafts” has been very limited – they have editors for that, lol. Knowing that I will be my own first-round editor (hoping I can afford to pay someone else to be a second-round, then beta-readers for third, and another round with the professional editor)… It’s exhausting just thinking about it, and my natural inclination to multi-task really comes out.

        But… I remember that I’ve heard in literally every bit of writing advice I’ve ever received… You cannot think creatively and logically at the same time, and pushing my creativity aside to overanalyze it will only hurt the work in the long run.

  • Hi Jeanne – glad the post helped you out!

  • I’m stalled at the moment. kids…

  • I don’t even want to look at how far behind I am on NaNoWriMo word count. Last week was pretty much a fail. BUT I’m going to keep plugging along. And since I don’t write scenes in order, I realized that I can just leave a scene I wrote that I’m not sure about and write another scene in a totally different direction if I want. I’ll fix the inconsistencies at edit time! I can hear those jungle drums now…

    And a note on Cruising Writers: AH-mazing! Totally worth your time and money. Can’t wait for the next one!

  • […] is unavoidable in the writing life. Christina Delay discusses the first draft jungle, Jane Friedman asks: should you hire a professional editor?, Mary Kole shows how you can find the […]

  • Charli Atkinson

    Your events sound so intriguing to me. Here’s what is preventing me moving forward to reserve a spot at one of them.
    I’ve only written for a small local paper, had a few short stories published, and my ideas still bounce around in my head like ping pongs without settling into a pattern.

    Am I anywhere near the point one should be before they immerse themselves in a room full of what seems like much more developed talent?

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