First drafts: turn off the brain, or at least part of it – Katherine Reay

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By Katherine Reay

Did you read the first draft of Gone Girl? How about Me Before You? Most likely not…

We put so much pressure on our first drafts. We want brilliance… But no one reads them. We never peek into that moment of a writer’s life. We have no idea how Gillian Flynn first envisioned Nick and Amy or the initial iteration of Lou’s bumblebee tights. We roll with the final gut-wrenching twists and see the adorable yellow on black stripes. We experience the best and those words flow with resonance, cadence and life.

But, I guarantee, the first drafts weren’t so shiny – nor should ours be. Idea generating is incompatible with honing, editing and revising. One is a creative process that, when done well, takes us to the edge of our experience and ourselves. The other is a ruthless chisel-to-stone effort as we chip that initial mass to its essential core.

So remind yourself as you begin your first novel, or your next novel, that no one – ever – needs to see that first draft. It’s secret, sacred and it’s yours and yours alone. Turn off your internal editor, take risks, and go to those dangerous places within your imagination, hopes and fears to bring power to the page. This first draft provides the ideal moment to experiment with form, scene, place – anything and everything that brings your story to life. And, while a daunting endeavor, it can also be a fun, freeing and incredible creative experience.

I also contend that while you often know where you want to go in a story’s plotline and structure, the first draft is also the perfect place to let yourself get sidetracked. If a character has something new to say, hear her out. Her voice may be the one that later defines your novel. (That happened to me in Dear Mr. Knightley – a little one-scene-kid named Kyle stole the show and my heart.)

Turn off your internal editor – that part of the brain will take over soon enough – and enjoy the freedom and challenge of your first draft!

Thank you for having me here today. As A Portrait of Emily Price launches into the world, I too am beginning another first draft…

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, releases in November 2016 and has received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK! Katherine is also a rehabbing runner, former marketer and avid chocolate consumer – who lives outside Chicago, IL.

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