This caught my attention because this is what I actually want to be reminded of. Because, you know, I’m a self-involved Millennial who enjoys stalking myself from time to time (this started off like a joke but then turned out to be a true statement…) and here’s why. This is the moment that I decided to treat myself like a writer.
By 2015, I was in my sixth or so creative writing class. I was still an English major and working three jobs and attempting to have a social life. My writing process was basically to think about writing the story until a day or so before it was due and then not sleep until the entire thing was finished. Let me emphasize that again: I wrote entire stories in one sitting. Every. Time. Now, real writers with actual authority to give you advice can tell you whether or not that is a healthy thing. I’m sure it works for some people. Here’s why it didn’t work for me.
Waiting until the last minute results in the Desperation Draft. Unless you have a very clear idea of where you’re going with a story when you sit down to write it (something I’ve long since decided doesn’t work for me), it’s gonna take more than one try to make a cohesive story. If you sit down with only a vague idea of what you have to say, the result is the vague outline of a story. The Desperation Draft gets comments like, “What’s this story really about?” and suggestions for huge, structural changes. For almost my entire undergraduate career, I turned in almost exclusively Desperation Drafts. They were usually based too closely off of something I had experienced or observed (see again *self-involved millennial). The second draft, necessary for workshops, was a hackjob version of the previous draft. I’d make those huge, structural changes and cut massive parts that had seen integral. The story would morph more into an actual piece of fiction and less me telling a story that actually happened. I’d fill the gaps with long-winded new ideas to fill the space. We’ll call this the Frankenstein’s Monster’s Draft, because it’s essentially a reanimated corpse. I came into editing with the precision of a chainsaw, not a scalpel. The second draft was sometimes made of almost entirely new material, which isn’t editing at all. It’s adding more first draft to the mess. The third draft in this case doesn’t even get a name. I only edited third drafts for the final portfolio, which meant (due to my shining time management skills), that it was finals week by the time I started utilizing the feedback from workshops. I think by now you see my point.
Two years ago, when I decided to apply to UMass for the summer writing institute, I had to actually look at my stuff like a writer. I took a story that had already made it through each of those drafts and did something I’d never done before–I edited it again. And again. I printed it, wrote all over it, made changes, let people read it, got feedback, and did it again. I cancelled plans. I forced myself to set aside time. And, the one time I actually put some work into something, I got in. In my workshop at UMass, we spent our time dedicated to the craft of editing (and I realized quickly that I had been completely guessing up until that point). I learned how to really weigh each line and each part of a story to figure out its function in the overall scheme, which I’ve been working on since.
Up until now, all I’ve been doing is editing stuff I started so long ago. I spent over a month editing my grad school writing sample and completely disappeared off the face of the Earth while doing so (more on that later). 2015 me would be proud of myself. More importantly, I’m ready to finally write something new. Not a Desperation Draft, but my first ever First Draft. It’s got a nice ring to it.
ALSO I GOT INTO GRAD SCHOOL!!! Catch me at Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writer’s Workshop.