I edited the hell out of a story last night. I changed almost everything and mercilessly butchered my darlings until only the proudest were left standing. The more I edited the more I realized the first draft really had been…less than great. A little wooden and a whole lot disjointed. Shitty, to be blunt. As I was editing, I kept wondering how I’d ever liked the story in the first place.
And still, this morning, I’m pretty high on accomplishment. I love the story now. It’s decent, and it flows, and dare I say it’s even a little funny.
A huge part of why I used to give up on stories is that when you’re writing the rough draft, it’s easy to hate the story. Sometimes it’s easy to hate yourself a little, too. I’m no good at this. How the hell did I ever expect to get anywhere? It will never be good. My friends and family are just being kind and really they think I suck ass.
I’d heard all the quotes from famous authors belittling the first draft, bitching about how the first draft sucks, will always suck. I heard it, but I didn’t believe it. Surely, these incredible artists were just being modest, or were venting their frustrations hyperbolically.
It took me a long while, years, to feel the truth of what I’d been hearing.
So from someone who’s not a famous author (yet), if you’re teetering on the precipice, pay attention: it sucks. It will suck, hard. But the joy is in fixing all those what-the-hells, smoothing and sticking together the jagged bits with Bondo and silly-string and whatever else you keep in your bag of tricks.
Now I realize that the worse the rough, the more fun it is to attack it in editing. Now you have a basic plan in mind, a beginning-middle-end of some sort, and you get to run in there, machete swinging, and mercilessly mow down anything that invaded your story’s territory when you weren’t looking. Stupid character? Whack ’em. Boring part? Light something on fire and watch ’em panic. The best part is seeing what you can do to mix it up a little.
So take joy in your shitty first drafts. Look forward to the cruel revenge you will take on anything that dares not be good. Keep a metaphorical knife in your teeth and madman’s glimmer in your eye. Love it, or strike it dead.