Insta Live Creative Writing Class: The Crap First Draft

8 May 2020

It took several years to write my first novel, The Missing One. At least nine months of that was spent finessing the opening three chapters. I obsessed over every sentence, word and description. When I sent the book to Judith Murray, who is now my agent, she said: ‘I like it, it needs a bit of work. I have notes’.

 Her main note? ‘Lose the first three chapters, you don’t need them.’

This was my first lesson in ‘kill your darlings’.  I slashed the first three chapters – and the book came alive.

What I’d been doing there was working out who my characters were, their backstories, where they lived, how they spoke. I didn’t realize that those chapters really belonged in the crap first draft (CFD).

Writing them brought the characters and set up alive for me, but the reader didn’t need to be led gently into the story. The reader needed the story to reach out, grab them by the throat and yank them in.

The Missing One by Lucy Atkins

Writing, for me, is a process of (often brutal) editing. It took me more than three years to write Magpie Lane, but most of that was spent cutting, rethinking and reshaping, rewriting.  I can only really do this when I have the CFD. This first clumsy, intense, wild attempt will be something like 70-80,000 words. And it really will be crap.



TIPS:

1. Adopt an attitude of experimentation and recklessness – YOU DON’T NEED TO START AT THE BEGINNING. Try writing random scenes.

2. Ignore the voice that’s hissing ‘this isn’t a novel’ (it’s right: it isn’t. Yet). 70,000 words may sound like a lot, but if you aren’t crouched on your own shoulder criticizing every sentence you type, it can be surprisingly doable.

3. Forget about elegant prose or your plot hanging together. Ignore clichés, allow hackneyed crap.

4. Try to stop on a high each day or at least not on a total low – stop before you run out of juice completely.

5. Vow never to show it to anyone.



Your CFD will contain moments that quicken your heart, characters that feel alive. These are the bits you’ll develop.

5 ways to get the CFD DONE:

1. Try a daily word count target – I don’t do this, many writes I know do

2. Devote actual time to it: Anthony Trollope wrote 47 novels, mostly whilst holding down a job. He swore by 3 hours a day and called writers ‘literary labourers’.

3. Find your best time of day. Create optimal writing conditions. For me it’s early mornings, with coffee.

4. Switch off the Internet and all social media during your writing time.

5. Spend time – when it’s not your optimal writing time – researching and reading. This gives you inspiration and energy, the fuel you need, for the next day’s work.

The CFD gets you over the massive psychological hurdle of the blank page. For me its the path from buttoned up, hypercritical, conscious mind into the fertile subconscious where the story is hiding.  

Comments

  1. Claire Rowley
    May 15, 2020

    Dear Lucy,

    A big thank you for your Friday online writing class at Psychologies Instagram and all your brilliant tips. My writing hours are now fully protected by barbed wire!

  2. lucyatkins
    May 18, 2020

    Glad to hear it Claire

  3. Angela Barnes
    May 16, 2020

    Thank you SO much, Lucy! This was exactly the kind of inspirational support that I was praying for having read your novels and messaged you during your MyVLF event recently. Given the chance to be a student again, I would have applied for your course at Oxford Uni in a heartbeat, but I’m a bit too long in the tooth for that now (at 47), so your Psychologies Classes are the perfect substitute. I’m cursing the fact that I didn’t know about them sooner, but I’m hoping that the magazine team will re-instate them on their instagram page at some point because I’m sure I’m not only the only author in training that finds your advice invaluable. Thank you again for your time and help, Best wishes, Angela

  4. lucyatkins
    May 18, 2020

    so glad it’s helpful. You definitely aren’t too old for Oxford, but I get that maybe a two year masters is a bit of a stretch!

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