Confession. As a child writer, I used to create intentional mistakes in my first draft.
The “sloppy copy,” as some teachers loved to call it. I resisted the endearing rhyme, in part because it seemed to belittle the writing I took very seriously, and in part because I took offense to the idea that any work of mine could at any point be considered sloppy.
No thanks. This piece I’m working on is called a draft.
So I used to make mistakes on purpose so my teacher would see progress from the first draft to the second and and then naturally the final. I believed these were credible mistakes that would indicate I had used my classroom time well during the period allocated for ‘revisions.’
I was especially fond of the occasional misspelling. Oh, how clever to spell that phonetically, Tricia. Well done. So believable.
When it was time to revise, I could take my red pencil and draw a self-righteous slash right through that little sin. I didn’t even need to “go to the dictionary and look it up,” which actually has never made a bit of sense to me since you need to know how to spell a word in order to look it up in a dictionary.
(Who were these English teachers who didn’t know the basic prerequisites of dictionary knowledge?)
I felt pretty strongly, as an aspiring author, that I could write with perfection the first time through. In retrospect, I think it had less to do with pride (although it had a lot to do with pride) and more to do with the boredom of revising and editing. I had already read these ideas, thought these thoughts. Why linger in this belabored process?
Even still, I love the rush of creating. When it comes to editing and revising, eh, I’d rather just start over.
This week, I read “Memory and Imagination” by Patricia Hampl, and she handed me a sparkly, new, gift-wrapped definition of a first draft.
“I’m a strong adherent of the first draft, and it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider what a first draft really is. . . I like to think I’ve cleaned it up from the first time I put it down on paper. I’ve cut some adjectives here, toned down the hyperbole there, smoothed a transition, cut a repetition—that sort of housekeeperly tidying up.
But the piece remains a first draft because I haven’t yet gotten to know it, haven’t given it a chance to tell me anything.
For me, writing a first draft is a little like meeting someone for the first time. I come away with a wary acquaintanceship, but the real friendship (if any) and genuine intimacy—that’s all down the road.
Intimacy with a piece of writing, as with a person, comes from paying attention to the revelations it is capable of giving, not by imposing my own preconceived notions, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.”
So it’s a first draft until I have gotten to know it, until it has taught me something. It does not shift from first to second gear simply because I identified the words I misspelled on purpose in the first place. I believe those might be considered ‘preconceived notions, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.’
So, you are here to teach me, you say? I’m listening, manuscript.
Take me out for coffee. Fascinate me with the things I don’t yet know about you.