The Rough Draft: Sketching Your Masterpiece

The most frustrating part of painting to me is showing someone what I’m working on  – mid-process. Kids are always the most honest.

“It’s kind of messy, Mom,” said my son, then five years old. He tilted his head to the side, squinting at my painting.

“I’m still working on it, bud. It’ll look a lot better when it’s done.”

“It will?”

“Yup. Just trust me. I’ve done this lots.”

He trusted me. That’s what five year olds do. And once it was done he did like it – even kept it on his dresser for years after that.

This story came to mind while I was stressing about one manuscript I had yet to finish. I had restarted it three or four times, but never completed it for one embarrassing reason –  I didn’t know how to write a rough draft. Not really.

A rough draft is suppose to be just that, rough. It’s meant to have phrases you aren’t sure how to complete, scenes that feel off, characters that feel flat, plot holes so big you could fall into them. I was looking at my unfinished manuscript as “messy” and instead of allowing myself to make a mess sketching out the basic lines of the story, I was trying to skip ahead and get a finish product my first time through.

Impossible.

The first draft gives us, as the writer, a chance to discover the story ourselves. This is true whether you plot out your stories beforehand or not – there will always be aspects to your plot and your character you’ll be discovering for the first time. Pausing to edit and perfect during the rough draft shuts off the pure artistic flow that comes when a writer is in the “zone.” Write now… only write. Edit later.

For you visual learners, like me, let’s look at the idea this way.

Images from www.metmuseum.org
Raphaël_-_Étude_Madone_d'Albe_1
Raphael’s paintings started as sketches, like our rough drafts.
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With edits, he cleaned up the image, adding more detail and life to it.
madonna sketch
More edits still, and you can see how his piece is shaping in to what it will become.
After MANY improvements, we get the masterpiece.
After MANY improvements, we get the masterpiece.

Lois Lowry, the author of “The Giver” said when she writes a rough draft that she often scribbles down a variety of words that might fit in a certain sentence and goes back to find the right one during the editing process. I think that’s brilliant. She gets her thoughts on paper, but waits to polish it up once the story is ready for that step. Not before.

So, to all you other perfectionist writers, I encourage you to let go and let your rough drafts be messy. Very, very messy. Stop worrying about that flat character, or that scene that just doesn’t feel right. First get your story on paper – the whole, messy story. Then, and only then, go back and work that sketch into the masterpiece in your head.

What’s the trickiest part of the writing process for you?

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To End or Not to End?

That’s today’s question.

I need your help. Take a quick minute and comment below with two things:

1. Do you prefer books that leave you hanging? Or books that give you closure?

2. Have a book in mind?

Thats the Ending

FOR ME:

In a series, I want closure at the end of each book with the over arching storyline pulling me on to the next book. I get most frustrated with series where book one ends and I feel like I’ve read the cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. The Divergent series left me feeling this way, especially book two. To me the series felt like one big story, chopped in to three books. Just not my preference. On the other hand, the Harry Potter series managed to create unique stand alone books that also worked together as a whole. The Last Apprentice Series does this as well. Anyone else agree with me here? Or want to defend Veronica Roth’s tactics?

There are some times that I like a little ambiguity. The book I have in mind is Lois Lowry’s, The Giver.  This book lets readers have a bit of a “choose your own adventure” moment with the ending. My book club read this book and many of the ladies hated the ending.They felt it was unfinished. I didn’t not feel that way. Personally, I love it. If you remember, Jonas’s first memory given was of a sled ride. Then, at the end of the book he’s faced with an unknown town, a place that could be a chance for a new life, a chance for a new start and what’s waiting on the top of the hill for him? What’s his first memory of this new life? A sled ride. That’s a pretty perfect ending to me.

Let’s hear your thoughts!