A few weeks ago, I finished the first draft of my new story, A Thousand Times. I was euphoric. It was so much fun to write. Ideas spun out of me. I kept in mind all of the many, many things I learned when writing Not Even Myself, all the tidbits of useful writing tips I've picked up from fellow writers, the Golden Egg Academy, Alex and Jude, other YA fiction I've enjoyed. I even made a hat based on it for the Golden Egg summer social. Yes, the hat looked dodgy but it actually won a prize - surely a sign that this draft was very possibly the best thing I'd ever written, right? Erm...
"It's fragile. Leave it alone a bit" - Imogen Cooper
So, beta readers are vital. They should ideally be writers themselves, or voracious readers. You should be able to trust what they say because they say it kindly and honestly. I have really great beta readers. I sent this first draft to three of them. After two critiques I stopped the third one reading any more because - eek - the other two had already brought up a heck of a lot of 'issues.'
Bump, I crashed. My beautiful world collapsed. That first draft wasn't as wonderful as I'd led myself to believe. The trouble with falling in love is it can often blind you to flaws. And this first draft of A Thousand Times has about a thousand flaws.
I've left it alone for a week now and tried to reimagine the parts that don't work. But I find it SO much harder to redraft than first draft. Working out which parts of the critiques I want to take on board, which parts I just need to get rid of, which parts simply need describing better.
I've read a lot about how hard it is to finish a first draft of something, that finishing is half the battle. But I've found my battle lies in the redraft, in distancing myself to see what's not working. It's analytical in a way I love to do with other people's writing but seem unable to do with my own.
I tweeted Imogen Cooper on #geaqa about what to do with a first draft and she advised caution. 'It's fragile,' she said. I didn't understand what she meant but now I do. This draft is fragile. The last thing I want to do is rush at it and, both literally and metaphorically, screw it up.
I've thought of drafts like a growing tree before, all the layers of redrafting like the invisible rings in a tree. First drafts are the shoot. And you don't pinch out a shoot until it's grown a bit otherwise it dies. It needs to be left alone awhile to sprout leaves, get hardier. The first draft needs to grow in your mind before you do anything with it.