Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Effectiveness of a Bad Start: How I Write a First Draft

The idea of a writer sitting down and just writing something out perfectly the first time is a wonderful fantasy. For me, anyway, that's just what it is--a fantasy.

It appears that I am perfecting the art of the lousy first draft--even more, actually: the art of the lousy beginning of the lousy first draft.

What does this mean? I ask myself, and you should feel free to ask yourself this question, too.

The answer that rings true for me is centered in the truism that we not only write to express what we know but also to discover what we know.

Writing is a reflective act that leads us to knowledge that we have not consciously considered. It connects aspects of the world as we see it in new ways, creating something more than what we thought we knew. Any creative act, anything new, taps into that energy that is continually creating the world. That is a limiting statement, though. We do not tap into that source of creativity; we are that creativity.

That's a pretty cosmic statement, so how does that match up with the fact that I appear to be really good as writing lousy beginnings to lousy rough drafts?

I have imagined a piece of writing in its wholeness and then just written it--a few poems, like the contractor pulling out the blueprint and then going at it.

However, writing for me is more a process, a journey, a relationship with an idea and ultimately with myself. I begin the process, start the journey, am open to the relationship, and it expands, unfolds, grows.

I often start a story with an image or an emotion or a vague idea or sense of a reality. Writing the story is as much a discovery for me as it is for the reader.

This is the first draft, of course.

And now I can get to the wonderful experience of writing bad beginnings to failed first drafts. I start and then stop, perhaps pleased at first but then recognizing a better angle or more dynamic character. I start again and, pleased or not, refine or embrace the idea or emotion-- and the story in my head becomes dynamic.

I'm not exactly thinking on paper; I'm doing more because creating is more inclusive, more unifying, more synergistic. The experience itself, at least for me, is worth the effort--there is that much fulfillment within the act of creation itself, never mind the product.

The product is actually a by-product. I find unity within myself and then happen to notice that I've created unity outside myself. If I've done a good enough job during the creating and the drafting and the reflecting--then maybe readers, engaging in the unity of the product, find also greater unity within themselves.

So that's why I am glorifying the wondrous possibility of allowing ourselves as writers--as creators--to experience that rapture of the blank slate, the field of all possibilities, the source of thought--the lousy beginning to a lousy first draft.

To expand ourselves, we must venture into terra incognita. Who knows what lies beyond the boundaries? I can't wait to find out.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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