Oh, That First Draft Magic! (pt 1)

“You are, at this moment, not unlike a god to your fiction.”

Anywhere.

That’s where your text can go in its early phases.

You haven’t published it yet.  You haven’t submitted an idea to anyone or anything official.  Your work, at this one shining moment in its history, is completely un-obligated, beholden to no one but yourself.  You’ve told a couple of close friends and family members about your overall story idea and a few of your characters, but even to these rare few people, the how’s and why’s and wherefore’s of your future masterpiece are totally unknown.  The surprise twists, obscure references, and homage character names are yours for the making, or not.  You are, at this moment, not unlike a god to your fiction.

Have you put yourself on a timeline yet?  Don’t.  I urge you not to rush it.  Not yet, anyway.  If you have never published anything before, and you are plotting out your outline or pounding away on your very first first draft, you might be eager to reach that magical day when you hit the submit button on Amazon or your chosen platform.  Seeing that future thumbnail of your cover and that product link on the world wide web with your name next to it might be the ultimate vision in your mind as you lay down to sleep each night. . . but hold off on saddling yourself with a “release date” in the early going.  Allow yourself the time to get into a rhythm.  Find out, as the days go by and turn into weeks, how much free time you are finding to write, and how much time you are actually allowing yourself to write.  Once you ease into an inevitable flow and strike that work/family/friends/writing balance, you will begin to see more clearly how many words you are comfortably capable of producing per session, and how many sessions per week you can sanely manage.

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What you see in the picture here is a collection of gadgets known as the AlphaSmart Neo, which I will be dedicating an entire post to pretty soon, because it deserves it.  I mention it because it allowed me to drag a reliable method of writing with me everywhere I went while I was working on the first draft of the first issue of Blue Daunia.  I didn’t always want to take my MacBook to work, or carry it to a coffeehouse or café if I had other errands to run before or afterwards (it gets hella-hot in the summer in Montgomery, AL, and leaving a MacBook in the car while you’re grocery shopping reserves you a special place in hell).

With the AlphaSmart with me on the go, and my computer always at the ready while at home, what I discovered was that I could easily find the time to churn out about 1500 to 2000 words per day, roughly five days a week.  This level of output, I found, would allow me ample time for my day-job as well as spending time with friends and family.  However, I only found this out after feeling out my schedule and seeing what worked for me.  It will be different for you.  It will be different for each and every person who sits down to tackle a writing project.

For some, it will be a matter of quality versus quantity, whereby they find that they can do 3000 words in a day but that their quality begins to suffer after roughly 1800. . . and that’s completely fine!  There is an old adage that, during the first draft, you should just write and write and write, disregarding quality for the sake of just getting the project written (the idea being that you can always edit and polish later).  This is true, to an extent, but it is my personal belief that, after a certain point in one’s attention span has been reached (or a certain level of mental fatigue), you shouldn’t keep blazing through your outline points if you honestly stopped “feelin’ it” half an hour ago.  There is a distinct difference between “editable quality” and “I’m basically just adding adjectives and adverbs to my outline at this point.”

So, find your rhythm. . . find your pace and your comfort level, and then, although some may tell you otherwise (writing advice is, after all, a matter of opinion), by all means, set yourself a first-draft completion date!  The purpose here is two-fold.  First, after you’ve determined how much you are comfortably capable of, a concrete date staring back at you on your computer wallpaper or fridge door will keep you motivated to maintain that pace.  It instills discipline.  Once you’ve found out what you can do, sure, you could shirk it one day for a few extra hours of Netflix or a roiling comments debate on Facebook, but couldn’t you be doing that on your own time?  Is it really helping you achieve a lifelong dream right now?  Secondly, it gives you enough of a sense of purpose to let others know that you are “on the clock.”  Once your friends and family know what you are up to, and you’ve worked out your schedule enough to let them know that there will still be time for them, they will understand that your writing time is just that, your writing time.  Treat it like a job at this point, but without the stress of a jerk boss or overly-gossipy co-workers.  Treat it like the best job in the world (because it is!), but a job nonetheless, and one which has to be undertaken just like any other job out there.  Would your day-job boss allow you to watch Netflix or browse Facebook on the clock?  Believe me, once you’ve met your quota for the day, you’re going to feel proud about it and enthusiastic for your next session.  Drop the ball one day (which I have been guilty of, a couple of times) and you’ll be surprised just how bummed you can feel about it, the dread of having to play catch-up, and how pessimistic about the whole project you can become (the only cure being the next successful session).

To Be Continued. . . .

Author: Benjamin Brunson

Benjamin Brunson (born 1975) started writing at the age of 7, when his father encouraged his pounding out of stories about a certain movie archaeologist on a family typewriter. He grew up in an era when action movies were iconic, and comic books were a mere 75 cents and available at every grocery store and corner gas station. His imagination was further fueled by a mother who introduced him to books and reading at an early age, eventually gifting him with copies of Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. That same mother would also bestow upon him a deep love and respect for the ocean and a good storm. Brunson would go on to participate in a creative writing magnet school program in his high school years in Montgomery, Alabama, where he became co-editor of the program’s literary magazine under the tutelage of Jerry Lawrence. At Auburn University, he majored in English and Literature, and quickly landed a spot as the film critic for the campus newspaper. The professors he would encounter in his collegiate career, namely Dr. Oliver Billingslea and Dr. Suzie Paul, would inspire him and help shape and steer his lifelong dream of creating fiction. In 2003, a major television network would cancel Brunson’s favorite sci-fi show about a group of ragtag misfits who, aboard a cargo spacecraft, took on various odd jobs in order to cull out a living and keep on flying. Feeling as if a deep void had been created in his life from the loss of the show, Brunson channeled his love for the ocean and began scribbling the notes for a handful of newly created characters and locations. These notes would, fourteen years later, form the basis for his monthly oceanic adventure saga, Blue Daunia.

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