Stuart Horwitz, of Book Architecture, has seen his share of messy first drafts. He's just written a great book: Blueprint Your Bestseller: How to Organize and Revise Any Manuscript Using the Book Architecture Method which details a method for organizing and revising your material in order to get from first draft to final draft.
But first you need that first draft to work from. Blueprint Your Bestseller has some advice for that, too (it's step zero in Stuart's 22-step method, but that's some creative math). I asked Stuart to distill his advice on how to get that first draft of your book -- or anything -- off the ground and this is what he had to say:
Writing a first draft is a funny thing. You have to consciously establish an environment for unconscious material to arrive. So that means you have to actively put yourself in a situation to receive. Nothing is ever guaranteed of course, but I do think certain things can be done to improve your odds of having a great writing session on any given day.
Here are a few specific tricks and tips I use when getting myself into that "first draft state of mind:"
1. Count Your Words. It sounds so rudimentary, I know. But it really does work, because we need something to grab onto to believe in the process. It's one of those mysteries that you can't simultaneously create and assess the worth of what you're creating; it's like trying to look in two directions at the same time. Since we can't measure quality, we have to make do with quantity. I count every word I write in a give session, even if I have written that day in longhand.
2. Find a Neutral Audience. If you're like me, you spend time trying to find your cheerleaders and avoid your critics. But neither of these two groups can really assess the value of your writing. Better to find a neutral audience to write to. When you picture this neutral audience member in your head, remember: they just want the information. If it's nonfiction, they're wondering, "What do I need to know about this?" If it's fiction, they want to know what happens next.
3. Don't Try to Organize Anything. This may frighten some people. But if you accept that you don't know the worth of what you are creating while you are in the act of creating it -- then you certainly don't know where it goes. Worry about it later. It's good to loose track of where you are; it's good to repeat yourself. If you have written the same scene three different ways in your growing word count, you are trying to communicate its importance. Later you can find these repetitions, and their attendant variations, and craft a narrative arc out of just these very elements.
4. Make the Time. You want to talk bills? Kids? Out-of-town guests, day jobs, commutes... At times it seems life was designed explicitly to obstruct us from writing. We still live in a society which does not privilege creative expression as much as widget making. So when I do manage to set some time aside to write, I stick to it; I keep my writing appointments, like I keep my other appointments. I don't know if what I write is going to be any good (see #1). All I know is I'm going to do it.
5. Listen. Most of what we hear in our heads comes from the culture, or our families, or the media. These external thoughts and influences become pinballs put in motion, just binging and clinking off every available surface in our minds. That is why writers have a hard time finding their "voice." This voice is the same one we hear in their heads once the other noise dies down, whether we achieve this temporary silence through meditation, travel, or adult beverages.
6. Have Fun. This probably seems like the most obvious one. If you're having fun, if you're experiencing the joy of discovery at all, then that freshness and excitement will be contained in the work you are creating. If you've Made the Time (#4), you know how many other things you could be doing, but tonight or today you get to write. There is fun to be had. It is up to you to have it.
So there you have it, just a glimpse of the sage advice contained in Stuart Horwitz's Blueprint Your Bestseller. I also loved the information about how to decide what to cut or what sections need work and Stuart's explanation of how to recognize a "series" in your writing and take advantage of it to give your work depth.
The best thing about this book? By the end you'll know how to revise your manuscript and make it so much better than that very messy first draft.