Monday, May 7, 2012

The Dreaded First Drafts

My school runs on a block schedule, so I have two different groups of kids each year (three 90 minutes blocks first semester, three 90 minute blocks second semester).  This January I had a student teacher, and he started the semester with my new students.  His time with us ended two weeks ago, and I took over the classroom.

I spent the first week looking at list stories with the kids and talking about how the authors construct these stories and work to express a specific tone.  When we were done reading the stories I chose (Girl- Kincaid, Hair- Cineros, Boys- Moody, The Things They Carried- O'Brien), the students wrote their own list stories.

Their first drafts aren't due until today, but a bunch of the kids dropped off copies to me last week.  After the eighth or ninth draft, I made a comment to the girl who was giving me her story about how surprised I was to be getting all these copies ahead of time.

The one girl told me it was because everyone was nervous to have a published author read their creative writing.

What?  What?  I was seriously stunned for a moment.

That comment totally blew me away for many reasons.  I couldn't believe they were looking at me in the same way I do when I think about published authors reading my work.  I love that they wanted to do so well for me, and it's always great to find an assignment that my kids are excited about and want to work hard on.

I didn't say any of these things to this girl, though, because there was something more important I wanted to tell her.

I'm not any different than she is.

I said that I may be publishing a book, but I had all the same feelings.  I told her about how terrified I am when I have to share my work for the first time, and how a first draft is a first draft, no matter who you are.

I think these are important words to remember myself.  I'm working through an early draft of my newest book, and it's hard going.  I want to stop, edit, and doubt myself with almost every word that I write down.  I'm doing the same things a lot of my students have been doing; getting nervous about sharing work.  I need to remind myself of my own advice and remember that this is a first draft and we all start from the same place.  A first draft is a first draft and you need to allow it to be that, because the truth is, you're your worst critique and you aren't going to move forward until you let go of all of your fears and just write.

What about you?  Do you get first draft anxiety?


Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm not a huge fan of first drafts, especially when I have to read through mine (like I will being doing soon). I prefer editing and watching the story really take shape.

I get anxious when someone reads my stuff for the first time. But it's never the first draft. Or the second. Or the third.

SA Larsenッ said...

I do get anxious during the first draft. Seems like once I hit the muddy middle, some wall slams into me. I have four new novels started. Two I've written over 30,000 words each. I need to revisit these, re-outline and just finish them. Not sure what scares me about finishing. ???

Kristan Hoffman said...

Such a great post, Rachele. I never thought about how your students might react, besides being excited, but it makes sense that they would be nervous. I'm sure I would be too if I were in their shoes.

Your response to the girl was perfect. And true. We all start from the same place. It's a great thing to remember. Thank you. :)

Talli Roland said...

Oh, how lovely that the students care so much about your opinion, and what a great response you gave that student!

Tere Kirkland said...

Wow, what an ego boost, lol! Sweet, inspirational story. I wish my HS English teacher had been as amazing as you!

Sage said...

That was so cute!

I love making first drafts, but I don't share them with anyone. Usually by the time my betas see it, the novel's pretty polished (until they tell me what's wrong with it, of course). Once, and only once, I sent a first draft to betas, because I was working in a new genre and wanted to make sure I was okay there. They gave me the green light...which went to my head! I probably did much less work than I should have and I'm not sure I even sent to betas after I finished editing. But, yeah, I was so embarrassed while they had the novel that they were looking at a first draft.

Emma Pass said...

Oh, absolutely! This is where I am right now. For me, first drafts are like standing on the edge of a diving board, looking at the water wayyyy below. The thought of taking that dive can be terrifying, because you have no idea how it will turn out.

And like you, I constantly struggle with the temptation to stop, go back and edit. I know, though, that once I've finished, no matter how rough my draft is, I'll have something I can work with, and editing and rewriting is my favourite part of the writing process, so it makes the first draft nerves worth it!

Claire M. Caterer said...

I have to remind myself constantly that a first draft is ONLY a draft. As I pull myself through it--sometimes it's like poling a raft through a swamp--I often despair, thinking, But it's not at all what I hoped it would be! And then my kinder inner voice whispers, It isn't finished yet.

erica lorraine scheidt said...

I love that you teach Girl/Kincaid with Boys/Moody. I love how they pair.