I’m working on the first draft of a trilogy that I started with NaNoWriMo and hope to have tapped (vomited) into the laptop by the end of April. Six months to crank out 3 drafts is quick, yes, but when I say “first draft,” I mean it. Thus far, my drafts are ugly, warty little toads that will require months at the gym and endless hours of cosmetic surgery to transform into princes.
For me, writing a first draft is completely different than later drafts and far more stressful. It’s the foundation of the story on which the cozy cottage, haunted mansion, or crystal palace is built. Everything that follows depends on it. A poor foundation causes all kinds of problems and takes a ton of work and time to correct, especially when there’s a sagging house perched on top of it full of cracks, holes, and leaks.
To use another metaphor, it’s the skeleton that later drafts will flesh out with organs, bones, and complex systems, all integrated and functioning in harmony. If my first draft has the skeleton of a gerbil, I’m going to have a tough time making my end product look like rhinoceros.
During a first draft, the plot and conflicts take shape, the characters come to life and assert themselves, and for many of us, our imaginary worlds become more solid. Another aspect that I experience vividly is the development of the book’s “tone.” Yes, finally, getting to the point of this post.
I can’t read a humorous book while writing the first draft of a dark and twisted story full of evil souls. Why not? Because inevitably, some character will get snarky and sarcastic and start cracking jokes.
Likewise, if I’m writing something lighthearted, I’d better not be reading a book that gives me the creeps, has me blubbering over the plight of refugees, or is so long-winded I fall into a reading-coma (Faulkner, for example).
Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but I notice that my writing reflects my mood as well as the place where my imagination is spending its off hours. If I want to write dark, I had better be reading dark. While writing The Bone Wall, I read Joe Abercrombe and Mark Lawrence, to name a couple favorites.
While writing The Sorcerer’s Garden, a lighter book than I usually attempt, I read Scott Lynch who crafted some very witty characters in his Gentleman Bastards series.
The same choice applies to genre. While writing a fantasy first draft, I read fantasy – almost always the work of respected, successful authors that I’d stalk if I met them in person. Since I’m too busy writing, I just stalk their books. I’m convinced that what we read while writing our stories can inspire and teach us how to write them better. Who ever said that writers don’t need to be readers too?
What do you read while working on a first draft? Do you notice an impact on your writing?