By The Numbers

This past week, I finished the rough draft of my current playwriting project.  (Well, I almost finished it – there’s a small final section that I won’t put down on paper until everything else is complete, so that when I write that out and finish it with the magical phrase “end of play,” I’ll mean it.  But that’s another story.)  Rough it most certainly is – there’s a whole lot of stuff that simply didn’t make it onto the page, whole sections and chunks which need to be reshaped.  Indeed, the part of me that knows what the final result is supposed to look and sound like has a different name for it, based on the disparity between what it presently is and what it should be – the “crap draft.”

Note that I didn’t coin the phrase “crap draft” myself – it’s from a workshop I took a few years ago, as I began writing in earnest, and it involves giving yourself license to write whatever crap you need to in order to get the words on the page, so that you can shape it properly afterwards.  Most writers I know use some variation of this phrase to describe the initial draft, the “rough draft.”  If you’ve been following Wil Wheaton on Twitter (and if you’re reading this, you clearly have internet access, so why aren’t you following geek icon Wil Wheaton on Twitter?) you’ve recently seen him describe his recent efforts with a new science fiction story as his “puke draft.”

The one thing you never hear us talk about nowadays is the “first draft.”

Long ago, when I was in school, after a five miles’ walk in the snow uphill both ways, I was taught to write the “first draft” out in long-hand, double-spaced, on loose-leaf paper.  That done, corrections would be made in the spaces between the original writing.  From that, the second draft would be written, and thence to a third, and so on and so forth until the final draft was complete.  An orderly, logical progression.  This was the habit of writing which had to be learned, which would guide us in our future academic careers, which would guide us in our future writing, which had guided writers since first pen was put to paper, which had guided literature’s great masters, and which would guide writers for all time to come.  And yet, I don’t know that these categories even exist anymore.  Thanks to modern technology, I can write and rewrite sections as many times as I want almost instantly.  (You can’t see it, but I just did!)  The idea of numbered drafts, this basic writing habit which has guided writers for as long as literature has been, is almost meaningless at this point.

It may seem that this is a trivial thing to fixate on.  It may also seem that I’m about to complain about how technology is destroying the habits that made literature great, and how it should get off my lawn already.  Instead, I’d like to suggest that this is an immense boon to creative types.  For you see, the entire first-second-third paradigm implies a certain linear approach to writing, even to thinking.  Get hung up on a detail as you’re writing out that first draft, and you find yourself unable to progress further.  The whole phrase “writer’s block” implies a linear path, for what else can be blocked with such brutal ease?

I know that being hung up on such logical, linear progressions of thought hindered my own creativity for too long than I’d like to think about, and only by training my brain to work around those preconceived notions have I been able to start producing the work I’ve always wanted to.  We need to recognize that as we all think differently, we create differently, and should embrace whatever models of creativity best suit our needs.

So forget about the numbers.  It’s time to clean up the crap.

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