blog article 1
first published on: 3/31/2020
writing is an iterative process
Many of us want to write a book. Many only wish to complete a story they are writing. And yet, only some do. Some of us would like writing to be our full-time job, but many would simply like to share their stories with others. Not every one of us is thinking about becoming a best-selling author. Some of us just want to be able to finish the books or stories we have started writing. But we don’t. The reasons, to a large extent, boil down to the following:
“I can’t do it. It’s too difficult.”
“I always write a few chapters and then delete them, because they are not good enough.”
“I have difficulty sticking to the plot throughout my first draft.”
“Too much ends up changing by the time I have finished writing most of my book.”
“I keep making changes to the plot as I write and it ends up becoming a confused mess.”
I’m no authority on writing. I haven’t been published. I haven’t written and self-published dozens of best sellers either. However, I have reached a stage where I can now complete any project I start. I no longer worry about whether my stories are good enough while writing them. And I no longer delete my stories midway, when I feel like they aren’t as good as I initially envisioned them in my head. And so, to all of you out there who’ve been holding off on completing your work because of one or more of the above issues, here’s a simple fact. Writing, whether it’s an article, a short story, or a thousand-page book, is an iterative process.
Every story, no matter how big or small, starts with a basic plot. There is a beginning, an ending, and one or more characters that partake in this journey. The goal of a first draft is to create the first iteration of this basic plot. It is likely that a large part of the basic plot may change during this first draft. Characters may be added to the story on the fly, and their introduction into the flow of things may not be as neat as the writer wants it to be. It may, in fact, not make any sense at all in the larger context of the story. Endings may change completely by the time the first draft is completed. The scope of the story may end up changing drastically as well. What is important is to remember that none of these things make one a bad writer. They are simply a natural part of the process of creating something.
First drafts should never be deleted, no matter how much they deviated from the original vision. So what if you think they suck? So what if you are not happy with how they turned out? They are nothing but a starting point, a foundation upon which a writer can build their second draft.
The second draft is where a writer can begin cleaning up character and plot inconsistencies, no matter how large they are. The beginning of the book can be modified and fixed to match its ending, and the opposite holds true as well. Characters who were introduced hastily can have their points of entry into the story finessed. The second draft basically serves to bring some semblance of order to the chaos created within a story, or article’s, first draft.
This chaos is natural. Writing is often an emotional process, and a writer may feel one emotion when they’re writing the beginning of their first draft, and completely different ones as they approach its end. Sometimes the emotions may stay the same throughout the work’s creation, but the intent may begin to differ. A number of other things can happen as well. None of them matter. What matters is seeing the first draft to completion. That is the most important step in the process of creation.
Finishing the first draft, no matter how bad one thinks it is, places finished work in one’s hands. The work may still require a great deal of modification to be made presentable. However, the work is, nevertheless, finished in the very basic sense of the word. And that achievement should give every writer a great deal of comfort.
What follows is a series of drafts that build upon the first in a variety of ways. How many drafts you end up needing is inconsequential. Each subsequent draft will involve lesser changes than the one before it. Each subsequent draft will also take significantly lesser time to complete than the ones that came before it. Further, some drafts only serve to clean up the story itself. Others fix issues with the characters. Some do nothing more than fix a few minor flaws and plot points which improve the flow of the story. Each of these drafts is another step closer to having something you aren’t afraid of presenting. Understanding this is the second most important part of the writing process.
To illustrate, here’s an example. My first book, TEDESKIMMA, took 3 drafts to finalize. None of these drafts were related to the editing of the book. I wrote a detailed outline of TEDESKIMMA first. And I then tried to follow it as best as I could while writing the first draft of the book. I didn’t do a very good job of it. TEDESKIMMA is divided into 11 parts. Each part follows a different character and leads the reader through their lives. All 11 parts are, however, connected by a single object. This simple idea – multiple characters connected by a single object – that forms the basic premise of this book was what occurred to me first. Once I had the idea, I began thinking of what the stories of these multiple characters will be. A few ideas formed in my head, and they created the first few parts of the book. These first few parts were rather rough. They were fine plot wise, but they had no particular emotional core or message.
But then, there were a few developments in our world which shocked me, and shook the very fiber of my being. I will not describe these in detail, but what I’m referring to will be readily apparent to all readers who pick up this work. What I witnessed made me feel hopeless. I felt like there was nothing I could do about the atrocities I was witnessing, except write about them, hoping that what I wrote would move others enough to rise up and do what I could not on my own. These parts formed the core of this book. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that they completely redefined it. They helped me nail down the emotional component of this work, and this was when I was well into the first draft of the book.
And so, my first draft of TEDESKIMMA, finished with drastic differences in tone from beginning to end. The first 4 parts of the book did not mesh well with what I had planned for parts 5 to 11. I could have started writing the book all over again when I found its emotional core, but I didn’t. I simply kept going instead. At that point of time, the realization that writing was an iterative process hadn’t hit me yet. I didn’t delete everything I had written and start from scratch simply because it seemed wasteful to me. I had spent a great deal of time writing the first 4 parts of the book, and to delete them and begin again meant that everything I had done so far had been for nothing.
I, thus, decided to just keep moving forward. I told myself that I could always clean up the initial part of the book in the next draft, and it was one of the best decisions I made. I have followed this iterative writing process ever since. This led to me completing my first draft, after which I went back and almost completely reworked what I had written in the first 4 parts of the book, since I now knew exactly what I was trying to achieve through this work. I then ran through the book once more, and this third draft cleaned up whatever other inconsistencies remained. The book’s various storylines and themes had been nailed down by this point, and so I read it a few more times after this, until I was satisfied with the end result, at which point I sent it out for editing. None of this would have been possible if I had given in to the temptation of reworking everything from scratch.
In conclusion, you owe it to yourself to see your first draft to its completion. It doesn’t matter if its good enough. It doesn’t matter if you think you can never show it to anybody. Because you do not have to do either of those things. Keep your first draft to yourself. Its main purpose is to show you what the final version of your work could look like, and to make you realize that you’ve already completely one of the most important parts of creating a completed work. Never forget that.
Have a great day, no matter where you are in this vast universe.
And remember, you are NOT alone.