The First Draft

Syma Sees (AND)Cartwheel

Finding Forrester was one of those movies. The kind that I enjoy, but can easily see why so many others don’t. It’s the kind of movie light on logic or reality, and heavy on the emotion. And Sean Connery’s character is, well, odd.

However you or I feel about it, there’s one thing I do remember. Sean Connery’s character looking up from the typewriter and saying, “You know what the best feeling is? When you’ve finished your first draft…” He goes on to say that it’s reading the first draft that he likes. That leads me to think that whoever wrote that doesn’t write or at least doesn’t write like I do.

It’s not reading the first draft that’s “the best feeling,” it’s right after you’ve done it. After you’ve gotten all the thoughts out but haven’t gone back to determine if they’re all in order and said as well as they can be. The reality that your writing is flawed, which is what the first reading always unveils to me, is usually a time of disappointment.

The first draft–most of the time–is the easiest to write. If it’s a good topic–one about which I have something to say–it comes quickly and easily. And afterwards, there is a warm afterglow that might merit, well, a cartwheel.

After a first draft, at least one that comes easy, there’s a certain confidence. A self-assurance that comes from knowing that you said what you wanted to say exactly as you wanted to say it. Perhaps, later, you’ll realize that many of your phrases are awkward and that your message is a little muddy, but before you read it you’re not aware of that.

For now, all you know is that it’s done. That deed that at other times takes all the time and effort you’ve got has been completed. That weight that made you pick up the pen or keyboard in the first place is gone, and you have the opportunity to relish the new-found lightness.

But those are the good first drafts. The first drafts that come easy. There is another kind. And the other kind are, I would contend, the kind of first draft you shouldn’t be writing. The kind of first draft that takes studious effort and prodding and pulling and suffering. If the first draft doesn’t come easy, it shouldn’t come at all. (Unless, of course, you’ve got a deadline and no control over your topic.)

Perhaps I’m being unrealistically absolute. No, I am being unrealistically absolute. But after you finally write the first first draft that comes easy after fifty that come hard, you’ll know why I’m so willing to be unrealistically absolute.