I have a theory, and it began on the second day of NaNo craziness. In thinking in terms of all the drafts a novel goes through, I believe there are distinct differences between a rough draft and a first draft, especially for someone like me, who is a pantser. Let me explain my idea of the various stages a novel goes through:
This is the point where everything begins. For pantsers, it’s the stage where we learn our story worlds, characters, and plotlines. It’s like baptism by fire, and if you’re operating under NaNo rules, then it’s okay to use the word “was” a hundred times in a paragraph, or to include a thousand filters. You get extra points for combining those “was” words with all those filters. You get a gold medal if your inner editor/critic allows hyperbolic passages, such as the one above.
The rough draft is the draft where it’s okay not to know what the hell you’re doing or where the hell you’re going—and absolutely under no circumstances are you allowed to berate yourself for an abundance of mistakes. Rough drafts are rough, because they are rough. Do not edit out the repetition! Rough drafts are EASY in the grand scheme of things.
First draft is the stage when a story begins to emerge. It comes to life, resembling something that someone can actually read and not want to chuck out the window in utter disgust. A first draft is when you go through and smooth out all of those hideous kinks in the rough version. This is usually when I start to outline more, mostly in my head at first, then I’ll scribble notes onto paper and promptly lose them. But that’s okay, because by the time I lose my notes, I’ve usually changed my mind anyway on the plot. Again. First drafts are FUN in the grand scheme of things.
It’s during the second draft when you’re suddenly choking on fear, reaching for the alcohol, and wondering, “what the hell did I get myself into?” The second draft is when you have to fix all of those mistakes you didn’t manage to destroy in the first draft. This is the time for painstaking plotting, agonizing word choice decisions, elaborate imagery, and making sure you reach the end of draft two with your characters still breathing—metaphorically, that is. If you type “The End” on your second draft without killing off your characters and despising the art of writing, then you might be (gasp!) a writer. Or a masochist. The second draft is a tool of the DEVIL in the grand scheme of things.
The Polishing Draft:
Assuming you haven’t gotten stuck on the merry-go-round of second draft hell, where second becomes third, fourth, fifth . . . or even if you did, the polishing draft is a meticulous method of eradicating your masterpiece of the ordinary and clichéd. This is where writing is tightened (if it isn’t already), clichés are chucked in favor of more originality, and you go over it with a fine-toothed comb (haha, cliché, anyone?) in search of the monstrous foes of overwriting and overused words. The polishing draft is a RELIEF in the grand scheme of things.
THE FINAL DRAFT!!!!
Enough said. Let’s get drunk, streak through the town naked, wake-up with a tiger in our bathroom, then do it all over again. Not necessarily the Old School Hangover, but the sequel of your Masterpiece!
Happy writing, fellow pantsers. I’m getting back to it now, hoping I can catch up after coming down sick on the THIRD DAY of National Novel Writing Month! There should be a law against that.