Anne Lamott will forever by memorialized (even though she is very much alive) for coining the phrase, “shitty first draft.” That’s the draft where you basically puke everything onto the screen, knowing that many of the words might survive ruthless editing but never the entire draft. This is where the writer doesn’t give a damn any more than Rhett Butler did in Gone with the Wind. The goal is to get through the chapters, lay out the story, name characters, figure out a bit of the conflict and hope that you have enough endurance to reach “THE END” the first time.
For me, that shitty first draft is just that: shitty. Let me give you an example. This is the original opening for Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery:
“To Maxine Davies, our dear friend and fellow life traveler,” Eleanor intoned.
“We will miss you and think of you often,” Grace continued.
“But you understand, dear, we do not associate with. . . ,” Rose added.
“. . . trailer trash!” Raney finished the toast.
Ching, ching, ching. . . . Five well-manicured hands raised crystal glasses and clinked rims.
I laughed and sipped my pomegranate martini.
“How many times do I have to tell you, we aren’t living in trailers? They’re RVs.”
Okay, not too bad. Kinda funny, but doesn’t set up any conflict or identify the tone of the story. This actually reads like the book is more of a comedy about women who drink.
Five drafts later, I produced:
Just after dawn I eased the door open and tiptoed down three metal steps to bare earth. With coffee cup in hand, I turned three hundred sixty degrees to survey my surroundings. A strong front had blown through during the night, sweeping the humidity out to sea and leaving a crystalline sky behind.
The underlying stench of death and decay, however, remained.
Hmm. Good atmosphere. A hint that the narrator is in an unfamiliar location. Hints that the book will have dark elements, that there is danger, that all is not rosy. So not the opening of the first draft, which survived as the second chapter, if you must know. With very few edits, this second example made it into the book. A comment a reader sent me via email said, “I read the first chapter and got chills. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Mad Max.” Who could ask for any better comment?
What about you fellow writer peeps? Want to share one of your shitty first drafts?