All Lil noticed in the moment was the blood. It covered Kern’s chin from her first punch that split his bottom lip. It speckled the rock behind him from the impact of the second punch. And it coated her fist even as she pulled back to hit him again. The first hits had been for herself, to pay him back for the insults he’d had for her, but the next one was for what he’d said about her mother. Or the next one after that if there wasn’t enough blood. Only problem was, she wasn’t sure he had enough blood for that.
That’s not from the first draft of my book. It’s something I wrote about 10 minutes ago while trying to keep in mind only what I want out of the first scene, and it’s something I’ve been struggling with for a while because I listen to too much goddamn writing advice.
I finished a first draft last fall, although now I think of it as more of a really detailed outline, but almost as soon as I finished it I realized most of it was unusable. There are all kinds of reasons for that: the story changed as I wrote, characters were ditched, settings changed, themes weren’t being communicated. But the most nefarious reason was that I had in my head too many John Truby/Story Grid/Writing Excuses/Printrun bits of advice floating in my head in that first draft, and I hadn’t paid enough attention to writing the story for me. That advice is all great advice, but not yet.
First I need to write the story for me. Get the other voices out of my head. Listen to myself, and to Lil. Find out what it is I need to say.
I’ve got to let her beat up that kid without worrying that I’m screwing up her appeal to the reader or squandering a ‘save the cat’ moment. I’ve got to hold in my head her character and flaws and motivations instead of what a book or podcast says I need to establish. I know that eventually I’ll have to deal with those things, but this draft has to be the story I want to tell myself. I have to start there and then edit for a market rather than keep a market in mind from the first step or else I’m going to wind up with a very unremarkable and ordinary book.
That first paragraph up top sucks, but it’s a more honest start to my book than the ones (yes, I have a couple) in my first draft. Here’s hoping I can learn how to keep that honesty going forward.