3 Ways to get out of the First Draft mess

We all know what first drafts of our writing projects are like. Sh****, rambling, incoherent. First drafts are generally too long at the unimportant places and embarrassingly short at the meaty. In the haste to put down all the points on paper, the mind jumps ahead of the pen and we get typos, incomplete sentences and unexplored ideas.

First drafts can be edited, improved and rewritten. We can polish them into gems. But the task is daunting to most of us. I know, because I have the first draft of last year’s NaNoWriMo sitting heavy on my hands. After I finished the first draft, I took time off for a few weeks before picking it up again. And then it became a huge gargantuan task that I simply could not tackle.

It is easy and far too regular to get intimidated by First Drafts. Here are a few things that I learnt about getting back on track.

1. Strip down to the bare bones

Call it outlining or summarizing, but after everything that is in your head put down,  it is time to sit back and find out the story that you are telling. In a fictional piece, tell yourself that story again. Take away the cosmetic fillings, the recurring themes, the metaphors, the irony and plot for yourself what the real story is. Find out the protagonists and what happens in their lives in your book.

For a non fictional piece, outline your premise, the arguments for and against,  the supporting evidence and the conclusion. Once you are clear about what essentials you are presenting, you would be able to get a hang of where you are going next .

2. Shake things up

After writing the first draft, it might just seem very difficult to get back to it. Inexplicably, you can’t seem to get back into the same frame of mind as you were before. That is just fine because to move to the next level, there needs to be a change in attitude. 

Change that attitude by getting into a different frame of mind. You would have already spent a little time away from the first draft. Now shake things up by changing how the draft looks. Get a printout for a soft copy. Change the fonts. Change the margins. For the text itself, change the point of view. Have the story told by a different character. Examine your narrative from a different angle. 

3. Be ruthless

Be ruthless with the script you had laid out.  You know the story and you are raring to go and embellish and present it differently. Let go of things and characters that you know do not sound right or are not going to work. Chalk out what needs to be elaborated upon and what needs to be cut out. 

Above all, be ruthless with yourself. It is time that the first draft moves to the second draft stage and after that see the light of the day. It is something that you owe to your readers and to yourself. 

Dear Writer friends, how do you tackle your first drafts? 

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5 Things to Consider if You Want to Write Regularly 

Writing everyday or even regularly can be intimidating sometimes. We all mean to be prolific but can slip up even with the best intentions. 

Here are a few things to consider and to tighten up :
1. Where– Your writing spot

The place where you write can be the most important factor in helping you put in the mood for writing. 

I dream of having a sturdy wooden table, dark as walnut, sitting right next to the window, the sunlight streaming in. The garden outside would be verdant. The blooms would be fragrant and overpowering and the birds would be noisy. 

Yet, it is not always possible to have a dream setting like that. You may have to make do with the dining table and even the pillow on bed as a writing space when the need arises but a regular spot works best. Once you get there, your mind tells you that it is time to write and day dream and put the words on paper. 

2. When – The time of the Day

Writing at the same time every day works wonders. It helps to tell the Muse when you are  going to be creative so that she can turn up and look over your shoulder as you write. 

On a more logical note, the mind is trained to think of writing at that same time everyday and the words flow easy. 

3. What– Know what to write of beforehand.

There are days when the words I write are hurried, the curves of the letters less exaggerated, the i’s remain dotted and the t’s remain uncrossed. 

Then, there are days when I slip up and feel stuck. There are days when the words just don’t come and when the birds sound raucous rather than sweet and the curve of the letters are exaggerated. 

It helps to know what things inspire you and what things you love to write about. Always have a few topics handy for the days you cannot think of anything interesting to write of. 

4. Why– Remember the reasons you write. 

Think of the reasons you are here in the first place. Never let go of the sight of what writing gives you. It could be the joy of expression or just a vent to your feelings or the satisfaction of a creative pursuit. If it comes from within, you can do it well. And anything that you can do well is worth doing again and again. 

5. How – Ways to get better

The answer to how to do anything well comes from experimenting, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. It comes from practice and  from the pursuit of the art and craft. Developing the writing muscle is a matter of doing it again and again, and at regular intervals. 

What are the ways that you adopt to write regularly? Do share. 

7 Musings on the Muse

I often feel that writing is something that takes me on a journey. I begin walking along the path, looking at the flowers, loving the scenery, the deep blue hills in the distance and the narrow winding path that goes up and down, taking me to places of it’s own accord. 

It is a lovely experience but the places I go to depend on the path. 

There are days when I wish I had more control over the process of writing and I had more courage to take the off shoots in the writing path. I wish I knew if I wanted to continue from there or to get back to where I was before. 

In other words, I want to be creative when I want to and not wait for inspiration to strike me. 

1. Finding My Muse 

    The first thing, of course, is that I cannot wait for my muse to find me. I just go and find her myself. I often wonder as to what she looks like. What must be her physical characteristics and what must be her benevolent qualities? And just because I do not know what she looks like, I should not despair in not knowing where to look for her. 

    Let us go down that path again. The writing path, the one with many delights. Which bush, which tree does she hide behind? Are there signs so that I may find her? I do not know, so I decide to take out my lute and lure her to me. 

    That might have sounded a little far fetched but in daily life this is what I need, bringing my muse to me. I must know what brings her to me and know what she likes so that she may stay. 

    2. When does the Muse Come 

    The question I have asked myself many times, when does the Muse come? Or more apt to ask, when would I call her? 

    For this, I needed to know when I write during the day and when I write best in a flow. 

    Sometimes, I feel that the time to write is hard to come by. I feel that I am always busy. So when do I find the time to write? I don’t. I make the time to write. 

    I have been writing on my blog for a couple of years now. Some days I do great, and some months I manage to churn out post after post. At times, on my less productive days and when things got busier and my schedule more crowded, I would struggle to write a 600-700 word blog post in five days. For professional writing or for doing the writing that pays, there are commitments and there are deadlines. I cannot just wait for time to be given to me. 

    To make sure that I wrote consistently, I started by identifying the time slots in the day when I could write. To my surprise, I found five such slots during my day. For two slots I could write endlessly or as much as I desired to and for the other three, I could write under a time constraint. That was like finding jewels. 
    The next few days, I focussed enough on those slots to start writing. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to write regularly and to notch up a good word count each day. Once I knew that I had those time slots, I guarded them zealously. I started each day envisioning the writing I would be doing in those slots. 

    In a few days I knew which times were best for me to write. I might have short time slots available for eg. During a commute, waiting for the school bus, waiting for the children outside their gym, the gap between two snack times when the children are lazy enough not to pester me or the short tv time that the children are allowed during the day. So I did have plenty of slots available but it was only by using all of them on a regular basis that I could find which ones worked best for me. 

    I understood that I liked the longer slots better when I could write more and I could get into a flow. The shorter slots were good to put in a few points to boost up the word count when that was required but I really loved the more relaxed time to write. I did not like to think that I had a few minutes left and I must write the next couple of hundred words in that. So both kinds of times were good but they served a different purpose and it helped to know which did what. 

    I also knew which time saw me at my productive best. I have always considered myself to be a morning person but somehow I wrote better in the nights. It had something to do with the infinite stretching of the night, well at least a few hours more than I would have gotten in the mornings. 

    3. How to make the Muse Stay 

    I made sure that I was focussed on my writing and there were minimum distractions. 

    It helped when the Internet was turned off. It also helped when I did not sit down to write after I had scanned my newsfeed, my messages and my mail. Doing all this just before my writing session was very distracting. 

    It helped to have the phone off the hook of course. I don’t like to listen to music when I write and I like to drink lots of water and sometimes I get up to pace about. 

    4. What keeps the Muse happy

    After a long time and some trial and error, I have realised that what makes me happy makes the muse happy too. She is intrinsically tied to me. She comes to me when I am relaxed, joyful, in the moment or when I have a deep need to express anything that has touched me deeply. 

    Looking at my writing and the times that I have been prolific gives me an idea of when my muse is happy and staying. The days I feel a deep satisfaction at having written well or expressed something completely are the days when I find my flow and my voice urges me and I can write on and on. These are the days when ideas come to me in dozens and I feel invincible where writing is concerned. 

    In writing, there are certain things that I can naturally express well. Some can write a memoir piece really well, musing and going down the memory lane. For others, informing and disseminating information comes easy. Some people are very rational and some write poetically. So, I write what I really want to write about. I write about the things I feel passionately for. I write so that it is expressed most beautifully and if it does not come out the way I would have liked to, I keep at it still. Because bad writing leads to good writing. The days I find my voice well are the days I write what I love to talk about. 

    This is not to say that I stick to one thing and never diversify into other ways of writing. It is only to say that I try to make everything my own before writing, in my mind so that the joy of ownership flows into the words. 

    5. How would the Muse stay comfortable 

    Which brings me to the next thing that is related to making the matter my own. It is deciding what I am going to write about when I sit down. I create an outline in my mind or on paper, if that helps better. Knowing what I am going to write about, what would be the structure of the piece, how the ideas are going to flow and how I want to tie up the diverse ideas or arguments as they arise. It is good to have an idea of how I would want to end it. Even then, sometimes new and unexpected things arise in the mind as I write and often I stumble upon a gem of an idea which closes the piece I am writing in an unexpected way. 

    So, I have an outline ready and also trust my instincts as I write. 

    6. Woo your Muse 

    The Muse is like a fountain of creativity and I can feed that creativity through writing. I also feed the muse in other ways by keeping the creative spark alive. That I usually do by indulging myself in other creative pursuits. 

    My favourite creative pursuit is to read. It is to fill my mind with impressions, thoughts, an amalgam of influences that come together to make my writing original. My inspiration comes from a cross section of arts and of raw passion that I encounter in the outpouring of the thoughts of the masters. 

    7. Passion and the Muse 

    I feel it is completely fine to lay bare my soul and write to take weight off my mind. It is completely fine to make writing a kind of a crutch on which to lean on, when going on seems impossible in life. I make it the place where I dump it all, the desires and the insecurities and the deepest fears. It is completely fine to dress these emotions a bit or a lot and to let them masquerade as characters with plenty of foibles. The thoughts are out there and they have taken wings. 

    Also, some days, I write for my own self. i don’t think of who I am writing for, who the target audience is going to be and how others are going to receive what I put out. I write so that it is my soul that is doing the talking. 

    Lastly, I have realized that it may take time for the writing to mature. Our perceptions change and our philosophies too and there is always something around the bend of our mind that surprises or charms our writing selves. 

    Disclaimer : The Muse is referred to as ‘she’. That is just an artistic view of her. For many others, eg, the writer, Stephen King, the Muse is ‘he’. 

    What are the ways you find your Muse and make her stay? Let us talk. 

    This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

    Friday Listicles: Top 5 Literary Fixes

    Being a voracious reader, I like to read book after book, with scarce a pause in between. I can be reading up to three different books at a time. When I am full of one, or overwhelmed with the thought thread in another, I only have to turn to yet another. Good books nourish the soul.  But there are times when I need some mindless reading, or something that is not too much effort but is good reading. I call such reads my literary fixes as they fill the gap in my reading and they are light and pleasant.

    The Top 5 Literary Fixes

    Re reading Classics
    Classics are considered ‘heavy stuff’, with archaic language and difficult to follow plot line. Yet, there is nothing more comforting for me to turn to the familiar characters I have grown up with (I started reading classics at a very young age and had read many of them by the time I finished school) and relive their lives, struggles and emotions. I go down the familiar lanes, see the landscapes once again and wander the mansions. It is something I cannot do in real life, for people and places change every time I blink.

    Western Novels
    The wild, wild west attracts me like nothing else and because the uncertain, danger ridden, pistol toting, knife wielding characters always live on the edge, it is a perfect antidote to my staid lifestyle. Any time, I pick up a Louis L’Amour book and follow the protagonist across the deserts or on mountain trails, I come back rejuvenated.

    Travel Literature
    The Lonely Planet magazines are my best friend. They are always perched on my shelf just within reach. I pore over the articles and the magnificent photographs and sigh and dream. Well, some day….

    Romance
    The girl is lovely, simple, sincere and the guy is rich, arrogant and seemingly too good for her. Yet, ‘feelings’ develop and they inch towards a commitment. The key words are ‘simple’, ‘feelings’ and ‘inch’. These are the features of the romance novels I like. Yes, Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer…. They are old world and so am I. But, sometimes, books like Twilight seem too interesting and… delicious!

    Good Housekeeping
    This is the last but definitely not the least. Any time, I am fed up of the chores, the endless running about, the loooong list of things to be accomplished, I plonk down in a comfortable chair and check out the online version of Good Housekeeping magazine. The pristine houses and beauty of living spaces makes me forget my own shabby surroundings, badly in need of dusting. In my mind, I an repainting the kitchen cabinets a gorgeous red and getting the perfect floral centerpiece.

    I would love to hear from you, my readers, about your literary fixes.