August 23, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Jack McDevitt 2: “Go for that smooth first draft.”

(The Twelve Blunders are used with permission of Jack McDevitt, and are taken from his webpage:

Years ago, after writing the ten chapters of my “real”, adult science fiction novel, INVADER’S GUILT: BOOK ONE OF THE GOD-PARTS FABRICATION, I labored under the impression that this draft had to be, if not perfect at least near-publishable.

After the next five chapters, I realized that it wasn’t even close to being publishable, I stopped. It languished for some time until I read an article that suggested that I “write like a shark” ( To write like a shark, I had to follow my plan and keep writing until the book was done.

Realizing the truth of McDevitt’s Blunder #2 helped as well: I couldn’t stop and polish every chapter, paragraph or sentence until I thought it was perfect. That might very well be a waste of time if I polished a page that I would ultimately have to cut. I needed to move forward and produce an end product. So I went back to INVADER’S GUILT and entered the original chapters into my new computer. Ignoring the urge to go back and revise as I wrote, I barreled through and finished it by the time the school year ended. The story was rough-and-tumble and sometimes confusing, but it was done and I had a beginning, middle and an end.

According to McDevitt, then came the easy part: revision. That was hard for me to grasp at first. To try to change five hundred pages of very raw story into a potentially saleable book was daunting. McDevitt agrees, but points out that the worst part of the process was over. I had a story written down. All I had to do now was make that story clear.

It took another year to finish polishing INVADER’S GUILT and after that, I started shopping it around. I had a few request to see partials, but no one wanted to see all of it. I stopped querying editors and started to take the advice of a couple of my first readers and I dropped two characters and added an overarching theme -- the process of revision it seems, is almost neverending.

The newly finished revision just started making the rounds a few weeks ago, so I’ll keep you up-to-date. Until then, I will continue to avoid McDevitt’s Blunder #2 and continue to write like a shark!



Paul said...

This is advice I have a tough time with, simply because when I write something, I immediately start thinking of the implications down the road, or what might have to change in what I wrote a while ago meshes with what I just wrote now. Perhaps the Buddhist admonition, "Be here now," is just as important for writing first drafts as it is in life.

If you want to take writing like a shark further, try what Kent Haruf did when he wrote the first draft of PLAINSONG: he pulled a stocking cap down over his eyes so he couldn't see what he was writing.

GuyStewart/DISCOVERCHURCH said...

Agreed...but there comes a point when I have to finish the story and if I'm writing a novel, then it's easy to reach a point of total paralysis -- I couldn't write a single scene without wondering if I should just cut it now and save myself the pain of cutting it later. Without consistently moving and "damn the torpedos, full speed ahead", my stories always stall. As well, the idea of writing like a shark was fascinating as most species of shark MUST move forward or suffocate (they have no gill muscles to pump water over the gills). I had stalled so many times in the past that the advice changed how I write for good. PS -- I can't touch type, so I have to look at the keyboard to make sure what I'm typing makes sense. Even then...;-)