The clay on the wheel

I’ve mentioned this before, possibly several times, but one of the best bits of writing advice I’ve ever heard is this: you have to get the clay on the wheel. This means that you have to get the words down before you can start carving out your masterpiece.  This is the concept of draft 0, the vomit draft, the first run where you write down your story so you don’t forget it. Once you’ve done that, you can get to work, pulling the novel out. Draft 1, draft 2, draft 3… with each successive edit, you get the manuscript closer to the actual novel.

This brings to mind another piece of writing advice, this time from Andrew Stanton, producer, director and screenwriter for Pixar: “The first draft is nothing more than a starting point, so be wrong as fast as you can.”

I’ve been thinking about these two concepts as I progress throught the final edit of Seven Wonders. To complete the manuscript – to get it closer to the novel – there are a bunch of new chapters that have to be written. I’m spending this week working on them.

The difference here is that these new chapters are being inserted into a whole manuscript – specifically, a whole manuscript that (new sections aside) has been edited several times. The new chapters are going right between pre-existing chapters that have, on the whole, been polished and refined several times over. Some of them are even pretty good.

So when it comes to writing the new stuff, I’m right back at square one again. These news chapters all start as draft 0 – I know what the purpose of the chapters are and I know what has to go in them, but it’s a case of writing it all down and working it out.

But the slightly disconcerting thing is that at the moment these new chapters – in the draft 0/vomit draft stage – kinda suck. They’re rough as hell. They’re too long or too short, there is lame dialogue and crappy writing.

Not all of it, of course. Draft 0 may be draft 0 but that doesn’t mean I’m not trying as hard as I can to write something awesome. But, on the whole, they are draft 0 for a reason. Reading the sections of the manuscript back in the right sequence to check the flow means I’m going from a good chapter to a faceache of a chapter then back to a good one. It’s a strange feeling, because boy, those new chapters need work.

And of course that’s what they’ll get. But in the meantime I need to grit my teeth and keep typing until something intelligble comes out. As soon as I get the new stuff in, I can think about fixing it. Counting today, I have 11 days to go on Seven Wonders before it must – must – be sent to my beta-readers.

Better get back to it then!

  • I like that. “Get the clay on the wheel.” I agree with that, totally.