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Home Blogs Guest Post: Irene Rosenfeld | The First Draft – Just Get it Done!

Guest Post: Irene Rosenfeld | The First Draft – Just Get it Done!

Published on November 17, 2015 by in Blogs

Note: Hi, folks! Dane here. I was initially approached by Ben Cameron, Irene’s PR guy, about potentially working together on a project. Irene talks about creative shyness, so I thought it’d be a good idea to ask her to come and talk at our monthly writers’ group here in High Wycombe, which she’ll be speaking at on Saturday February 13th. So, without further ado – over to Irene!


Terry Pratchett on First Drafts

Terry Pratchett on First Drafts


Whether you have writer’s block, or whether you just want to let your creativity flow, it’s good to re-learn to write without inhibition. But how is this possible when there’s punctuation, spelling, grammar and meaning to take care of, as well as the need to be logical, coherent and interesting?

It’s a learned habit that comes with practice and eventually becomes as easy as watching telly while drinking wine.

You just get into a rhythm and keep going. Keep repeating in your mind, “While my hand moves on the paper (or keyboard), I’m doing it right.” This finally makes your internal critic shut up.

This critic can be your worst enemy if you pull him/her out of the box too early (while composing your first draft). They can also be your best friend when pulled out of the box at the right time – second draft. But initially you want to be free, enjoy the movement of ink sliding over paper and ideas flowing gently from your brain, through your arm to your pen and page. I know this sounds old-fashioned, but have you tried it? Many writers, myself included, produce far superior results when we fast-draft ‘manually’ rather than via a machine.

The reason is that ideas flow better. We don’t get distracted by pictures, social media, email, or another search for a spelling, a name, or a piece of supposedly essential information.

We ban our inner critic. Our train of thought is uninterruptible and we just write, as though everything is dictated to us. It’s a wonderful and rather relaxing experience, actually.

I started doing this after stumbling on a documentary about J. K. Rowling, who is both prolific and wildly successful. I noticed how she was holding her pen, her notebook and how fast she was drafting her fiction, and I thought, ‘How interesting! She’s writing instinctively. She looks like she’s letting the thoughts take over her instead of sitting there, pondering, considering and giving herself a hard time!’

But it took practice to get there. Nor am I saying it’s easy. I started by writing diary entries which , being private and easy, were a great training ground. I moved on to other writing. Poetry is good, too, a rush of unexpected words and feelings that seem to want to write themselves in spite of you.

Avoid screens, then, if you can. Learn to let ideas flow, rejecting distractions. While writing, and unless you specifically stop for a break, forget about checking Facebook or a random blog post about  someone’s dog, his dentist and his new kettle.

The realm of triviality will rush in like a sea, to fill your brain, but don’t let it. This is the kind exercise you will find in ‘Creativity and Us’, if you get a chance to visit it.

If you are having problems getting down to writing, there’s only one remedy. Firmly tell yourself to sit down and write for one minute. Then keep going.

This brings me to NaNoWriMo and the joys of fast-drafting a whole novel in one month, at 1,700 words a day.  It’s a great concept, because this is the spirit in which we do our best: the spirit of just getting on with it.  It needs some planning, however, to be truly useful.

My NaNoWriMo tip for next year: pre-plan 11-13 index cards before the NaNoWriMo. One is for the sketch of a plot, including any relevant clues.

Six to eight of them are for detailed character sketches – each character is distinctive down to the height of the heels on their shoes, the size of their hands, beards and noses, the eccentricities of their accent and the words they’d use, the length of their skirts and the texture of their fly-away hair. You must be able to see and hear these guys very clearly in your mind’s eye before you set pen to paper.

The last four index cards are for Motif, Symbol, Detail and Pattern.

If you’re not sure what I mean, check out a good read like ‘I’m Not Scared’ by Niccolo Ammaniti; it’s so simple and beautiful. Its motif is a bicycle and an abandoned house. Its symbol is a TV set: emblem of poverty, isolation, and powerlessness. The pattern of its narrative moves from open country to claustrophobic little house; from scenes of bullying friendship to a tiny, crowded bedroom; from a cluster of houses in the middle of nowhere to a secret abandoned house where something  unspeakable is going on (I won’t spoil it by saying what).

The underlying (mythic) pattern is that innate goodness, innocence, purity of heart, and willingness to sacrifice oneself exist in surprising places. As we engage with this, deeper theme, the one that appeals to us at the level of the psyche rather than the intellect, we begin to see how it is this undying, mythic pattern that is so familiar and powerful.

No wonder then that the book has been so successful.


Bio: Irene Rosenfeld is an author and writing tutor living in London. Her Creativity and Us blog can be found at https://creativityandus.wordpress.com. Her new adventure novel for children, just published, is Geo Says No and more information can be found at www.geosaysno.com

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