On Reading Through the First Draft for the First Time

onreadingfirstdraftseditThere’s this segment from an Ira Glass interview where he speaks about how creative types (and I’ll focus specifically on writers for this part because this is what I know) will get to a point in their creating where their taste for art of their medium is more refined and much more advanced than their skill level and capacity for creating that type of art is. The knowledge for what they want to do is there, but the knowledge of how to do that isn’t developed enough.

In other words, you know enough to know what’s good, and also enough to know that what you’re creating is not good.

In the interview, Glass carries on to explain how absolutely infuriating this “gap,” as he terms it, is. He speaks to how every writer goes through it, and says how the only solution to getting past it is to keep plugging away, producing more work until you can get over the gap and your work takes a turn for the better. He speaks to how most writers will stop before this happens, and how they just assume that they’re not good enough and probably never will be. But the successful writers are the ones who conquer the gap.

And I am so glad I heard this interview and that, according to Ira Glass anyway, I’m not alone in this because this is exactly where I am right now. Not past the gap, but right down in it. Welcome to my hellscape.

At the end of 2015 when I finished my novel I planned to put it away from a few months as per the advice I’d heard repeated by so many writers. I was happy to do it because I was mentally exhausted with the whole thing and the thought of reading everything I’d spewed on those pages over the course of the year made me cringe a little.

The six months I’d planned to lay it aside turned to seven, the seven to eight. I realized the cringey feeling wasn’t going away. And now, a full year later, I’ve decided that it’s time to finally read the damn thing that took up a year of my life and only fifteen pages in and I’m still cringing. Because I have to be honest with myself and really? It’s just not that good. Not nearly good enough to be publishable, and not nearly good enough to be something I want to attach my name to. I had so many high hopes and ideas for what I wanted to do with this story and it seems like… well, the whole thing has just fallen flat.

I realize this is the unedited first draft, and Anne Lamott’s advice to “write shitty first drafts” still shines like a beacon in the back of my mind. But it’s hard, being able to read, review and critically assess all of the things that make other writing good or bad, but… not being able to produce a lot of the good stuff myself.

The first read through of the first draft is… painful. But I’m not going to let this moment and my feelings toward my writing at present define my writing forever. I’m going to get through this. Grudgingly, maybe (very, very grudgingly my boyfriend probably thinks). But I will. I’m determined to one day really and truly love my work. And if I have any hope of doing that in the future, I’m pretty sure I’ve got to learn how to do it now – plot holes, boring characters, cliches, unclear sentences, run-ons, continuation errors, and thousands of grammar mistakes and all.

And so, as I continue the first read through, I will do this try my best to suck up any feelings or ineptitude by: 1) reminding myself that this is why people say that all writing is rewriting, 2) not assuming my writing at age 24 is going to match my writing ten years from now. After all, my writing certainly has improved since I was 14, and 3) reminding myself that the best way to get good at writing is not to stop writing and wallowing, but to keep writing until that wallowing turns to confidence.

The first read through of my first draft is proving what I already suspected: this novel is a lovely, hot mess. Much more so than I originally thought. But I’m going to love it anyway, somehow, in every form it takes.

So tell me — how was it for you when you first read through your first draft of your novel? Did you like your work? Did it also make you cringe? And what do you think about what Ira Glass has to say about this whole thing? Let me know in the comments and let’s discuss. 🙂


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