Do you hear writers say – or if you are one, do you hear other writers say – to just get the story on the page, move on, don’t waste time with what you might later cut out? Put on all the flesh before you revise. Let the story be fat. Then find the bones. That’s what they say.
It’s the standard advice, the canon, the orthodoxy to be ignored to your detriment. I remember it from Annie Lamont’s Bird By Bird. She said to let your first draft be shitty!
I took this as gospel, then felt sinful in the church because of how often I went astray. Still do. Can’t help myself. Old habits die hard.
I write a scene. It looks pretty good. Next day I come back to take off from there. No time to waste. Needing to refresh, I intend to only stay a moment, to move right on. But no, here’s a place to fill in. She’d say this. He’d say that. He’d think this, not think that. I add, cut, fill, deepen, change. It’s a canvas, a sheet of paper on the easel, and I have the paint. This morning it looks pale in this corner, a shadow, a mere skeleton in need of nourishment right now. In that corner there’s purple prose, a Christmas tree with too many ornaments. Bring the eraser. Be gone all you unnecessary words!
I can’t move on until I see enough there. I must fill in or make it move by getting the junk out of the way. That’s what propels me to the next scene.
Writers, what happens for you in that critical first draft in which your job is to find the story? Tell us.
Readers, do you ever wonder what it would be like to write a story or just a scene? Try it. You might like it. Tell us how you imagine writers get it done. Do you like stories that are thick or thin?