Most Difficult Part of Writing

(Originally published Aug. 8, 2007).

People tell me I’m weird. I love the re-write and editing process — the fussing with words, the re-arranging of sentences, the polishing of prose. For me, the toughest part of writing is creating the first draft — deciding where to start a chapter, where to situate the action, giving the characters something to do so there are no talking heads. Creating something where nothing exists. Even worse, I have proclaimed that I am writing a humorous novel (eeeeeck), and am finding it more difficult than I had anticipated. And as if that isn’t hard enough, I have been compounding the problem by letting my critique partners read the first draft.

I know, I know. The first draft (a.k.a. ‘The Vomit Version’) should be merely a tool to set down the plot and serve as a framework for the subsequent re-write — an incomplete manuscript full of flaws and intended only for the author’s eyes. Trouble is, I want early feedback and I crave applause. I particularly want my critique partners to find the first draft hilarious, so I write as if targeting an invisible editor, knowing full well I will trash most of my prose in subsequent drafts.

The result is that my second novel is moving at a snail’s pace. Maybe slower.

As I pointed out in a previous blog, my sense of humor never bubbles out, fresh, original, and comical, upon writing the first draft. Or possibly even the second. The first cut of a scene is usually blah, hum-drum, ho-hum. You get the idea. It lacks zing. Does this happen to other authors as well? I suspect it does.

Only later, when I examine the scene, do I find a way to ramp up the humor. I slide in the exaggeration. I punch up the prose. Instead of mere discomfort, I subject the character to humiliation, even torture. In short, I try to find a way to surprise the reader.

Now that I have (hopefully) convinced myself that my initial lack of humor is normal, I will stop trying so hard to be entertaining in my pathetic first draft. I will simply try to write my story and stop playing to a phantom editor. Everything else, including humor, witty dialogue, and gripping suspense will follow. Later.

And I will not share the first draft of Fur Ball Fever with anyone.