Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Baby Talk & First Drafts*

* aka, my little pep talk

When my little girl turned one, my mother made her a pink flannel blanket. It was covered with smiley daisies, and it took about 30 seconds for her to glom onto it as an inseparable appendage. She couldn't say blanky yet, so she simply called it 'wahggie.' Mornings were not complete until she was wrapped in her wahggie, playtime never the same unless it was within arm's reach.

And then one day she woke up and asked for her banky. It was the same flannel (now a bit faded), the same smiley daisies. I sniffed a little and sighed; a piece of her childhood had ended. The banky went on to become her 'fler banky,' at which point it began fraying around the edges, and then the 'flawr blanky.' Finally, when it had lost nearly all it's stuffing and my little girl was old enough to read and write, it became her 'flower blanket.' She still occasionally snuggles with its deflated remains.

So often  when I write, I want the words to come out perfectly the first time. Oh, I've read all the posts from authors about how horrid their first drafts are, but I've also read their published books, and I have this sneaking suspicion that their horrid and my horrid are on completely different planes of existence. I despair, I mourn. Sometimes I can't get the words onto the paper because of how awful I know they will be.


What if I had expected the same perfection from my daughter? What if 'wahggie' just wasn't good enough and nothing else would do but 'flower blanket?' I would have missed out on so much. Her smiles, would have turned to frowns, her unbridled passion for that brand new, bright and cheery blanky would have been lost.

I guess what I'm trying to say is (for those of you like me who stress yourselves out when writing), would it really be so bad to treat our stories like our babies? We call them our babies (I know you do). We have hopes and dreams and aspirations for them. And yet, how many of us wish they would leap from our brow like Athena from Zeus, fully formed and ready for battle with agents and publishers.

Maybe there is joy to be found in the imperfection of a childish first draft. Maybe we can trust that our manuscripts will grow up through the various revisions, the words will mature, the fabric of the story will wear to a comfortable softness that we couldn't imagine any other way (maybe we'll even lose some stuffing in the process).

Maybe, we really can relax enough to love and nurture the unbridled passion of writing and know that there will be time enough later to take care of the rest.

~ Susan


  1. I have to smile - not only because of the CUTE wahggie! Yesterday, I was pounding my head with imperfection. The last couple days, nothing is coming out as wonderfully literary and flowing as I wished it would and then doubt sweeps in and then I pound at the keyboard and!

    Thanks for the reminder. Now I'll sit back and breathe :)

  2. This is a beautiful. It works too. Even writing whole awkward scenes that we know we'll need to delete later seems to trigger growth in our stories as a whole. Great post, Susan!

  3. My son had a speech delay, and needed a speech therapist to come to the house and coach him twice a week for a year. For a solid six months we had to fight him every morning while he kicked, screamed, and finally slumped on the floor exhausted, as the therapist went through the exercises. I came away from some of those mornings with bruises. When he finally started participating in the sessions and his speech began to trickle in, I cried with joy. It didn't matter that "bundy" was "bunny" and "ha-ha" was "dog" (he was immitating the way our dog panted, I think.) Progress was progress. I never thought that my writing was like those first six months, but now that I think about it, sometimes I do have to fight, and occasionally I feel bruised when I come away from my stories. And at the same time, I'm making progress.

    That was a great pep talk. Just remember, anything you write can be fixed and refined, but if you never write it in the frist place, no ammount of edits will make it better (because it doesn't exist!) Thanks for the post!

  4. What a beautiful post. I really needed to hear that today. I often get frustrated when the words just don't get on the page right the first time, but you are right, we really do need to give our stories time to develop and grow just like our children.

    I love the analogy, and if that is your daughter in the picture, she was/is adorable.

  5. When I looked first logged into The Prosers I did a double take because that picture at the top looks exactly like my daughter when she was one. Is that your daughter? She's darling.

  6. Heh, I once got far too attached to my first drafts. Then, indeed, I stopped trying to write everything perfectly the first time. I just spill the words out on paper in no rational order. As it happens, when I stop trying... that's when the most interesting prose appears.

    1. That's me too, Sabrina. I used to try so hard to make things sound perfect, but it always slowed down all my creativity. Now I find the scenes I don't try, I just let come, are always my favorite part. It's like I have to get out of my own way in order to see the story.

      Great pep talk, Susan. I needed to hear it.


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.