I’ve been writing children’s stories for a pretty long time. Over 23 years. After all of these years, writing that first draft is STILL the most challenging part of the process.
Some of the things I find to be most helpful with the drafting process are the numerous and wonderful books that I’ve read and workshops I have attended on craft. I’ve learned how to develop multi- dimensional characters, raise the tension, figure out what my MC wants and plan for the obstacles that will stand in the way. I’ve learned how to structure my story, pinpoint what’s at its heart, and determine what my character believes and what their disbelief is that frames the view of their world. There is always something new to learn, a skill to hone, and certainly a writing challenge to master.
That said, some of the things I find most UNHELPFUL with the drafting process are the numerous and wonderful books that I’ve read and workshops I have attended on craft. The reason for that is because being armed with a multitude of writing tools and skills that I have culled from these books and workshops, has led me to a false assumption: That this useful and powerful information will write the first draft for me.
It’s foolish of me to think that if I spend enough time studying the worksheets and templates and lists and graphs, that I can master that first draft before I even begin. I can’t. Yet I have spent days, sometimes weeks “preparing” in the hopes that I can avoid wasting time writing a crappy first draft. And what happens to me is that I end up spending way more time trying to figure out my story and not much time writing it. As in very little or zero writing at all. Sound ironic? That I would forget to do that part? But it happens. Too often.
I have to be careful to not get bogged down with what I call the preparation factor. While it certainly is wonderful to have these strategies and skills at hand and for me, some prepping and planning is still vital, I must remind myself of the important part of my job. Writing.
Which brings me to the most important lesson of all that I have learned in my career. Something that tends to get lost under the heavy pile of writerly knowledge stored in my writing toolbox. I don’t remember where I read it or who said it. I didn‘t come up with it myself because it never crossed my mind that this most important lesson would be something I’d be willing to try or do. It is however something I am very good at. I don’t need to prep or strategize. And it comes easily when I set out to tackle that first draft. It’s this: I allow myself to write badly. It’s now the very first step I take.
Because even though I learned long ago that a first draft can be pretty ugly, I sometimes forget.
Mainly because I don’t want it to be. But it’s supposed to be. It’s a starting point. And after it’s done, that’s when I can pull out my worksheets, my templates and my heavy toolbox and make it better.
Allowing myself to write badly is the best way I know how to move forward on a first draft. I know that no matter how much prep work I do, I will not get the answers I need to get through that first draft until I sit down and write it. (Insert more irony here.) Because trying to get my first draft right before I even start is stifling, unproductive, but most of all, impossible.
So go ahead and prep. Strategize. But don’t forget to write. Badly.
Susan Lubner is the author of three picture books (Abrams), the middle grade novels, Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl (Fall 2018 RP Kids/Hachette Books), and The Upside of Ordinary (Holiday House). Her work has been published in Highlights and Spider Magazine. Read more about her at www.susanlubner.com and follow her on twitter @susanlubner
Today's prize has been kindly offered by author Alayne Kay Christian. Alayne has offered a chapter book critique of the first three chapters of the winners story. If you are already a signed up member of the challenge, all you need to do to be entered into the drawing is to comment on this post. The winner will be selected by a random number generator at noon on March 31st and announced within 24 hours of the drawing.