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

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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