Anything Can Happen After Your First Draft

I saw this on Tumblr recently and felt it had to be shared.

Rantings Ravings Dragon Tamings asked:

Dear Mr. Gaiman, I am following your advice on writing and well, writing. I’m even handwriting so as to stop myself from preemptive editing. However, every day it becomes more and more apparent to me that the book I have in my mind is way better than the one that’s coming out. I get the feeling that once I get around to editing the book, it will end up changing A LOT. Is this normal? Is it okay for the plot to undergo lots of changes later as well? Or should I just write a better first draft?

Neil Gaiman responded: 

Neil GaimanWhat you write first is a first draft. When you get to the end of it, you’ve got a first draft. Anything can happen after that.

(In the first draft of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, while Charlie was touring Wonka’s factory, he was accidentally encased in chocolate and sent to Wonka’s house, where he foiled a burglary.)

There’s nothing to stop you fixing anything as you go, but it’s wiser to get to the end first, and then look at what you’ve got.

The book in your mind will pretty much always be better than the one that hits the paper. That’s just how it works.

At first, my thoughts turned immediately to writing. A lot of people write, but refuse to rewrite. Usually they see the first draft as this totem that can only be corrected and cleaned here and there, rather than rebuilt, should the need arise. Often this refusal to rewrite–which just sounds like quitting–takes another, more insidious form: that of incessant editing during the actual process, which certainly delays and usually prevents completion.

I’ve been guilty of that. Nearly every writer I’ve ever met has. But maturity in the craft brings with it the realization of the beauty and power of a rewrite, of getting that story in your head just right. It’s not always enjoyable. In fact, sometimes it feels like the original work was for naught, and that all this extra effort is keeping you from getting that next story out, which is what you should be doing, right?

Remember: if the story on the page, once finished, is not really the story you wanted to tell, then your brain is passing you an editorial order to rewrite the thing. Do as much as you need to fix it. As much, but no more. Unless of course, an editor looking to publish your work says otherwise.

Can this be applied to more than just writing?

Here’s what really got me thinking, though: what if we replace “writing” with “living”?

Dear Mr. G- I am following your advice on living and well, living…However, every day it becomes more and more apparent to me that the life I have in my mind is way better than the one that’s happening. I get the feeling that once I get around to thinking about things, it will end up changing A LOT. Is this normal? Is it okay for life to undergo lots of changes later as well? Or should I just have made a better first set of choices?

What would your response be? Every leadership lesson I’ve ever come across says that you should, once you have all the facts, make up your mind quickly and be slow to change it. How applicable is that to life?

What you choose first is a first path. When you get to the end of it, you’ve got a first path. Anything can happen after that.

There’s nothing to stop you fixing anything as you go, but it’s wiser to get to the end first, and then look at what you’ve got.

While not guaranteed, it’s a safe bet you’ll get to the end of your first path before you get to the end of your life. And like anything else, once you reach the end, it’s best to move on: hanging around the end of a path without moving to a new one is ultimately destructive.

That path may end when you finish school, when you finish a big project, or when you’ve advanced enough in a certain field that you no longer feel like there’s any growth. But while going through it, if the path is rough, as something like school might be, it’s tempting to quit and move to proverbial greener pastures. Consider that the wiser choice might be to finish what you’ve started (presuming the path you’re on is not inherently destructive).

Don’t forget: anything can happen after that.

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