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Saturday, August 24, 2013

From Shi##y First Draft to Real Book: Words of Wisdom for Newbie Authors by Diane Chamberlain


 

     
       "I want to write a book, but I can't get started."

            I hear that over and over again, so I'd like to give wannabe writers some encouragement. I think a big part of their problem is that they expect the first words they put on paper to glow with perfection. I'm a big believer in what Anne Lamott calls "the Shitty First Draft", so I thought I'd share my first draft attempt at a few paragraphs from my September 3rd release, Necessary Lies.
 
 
 
 
 

            Necessary Lies is my 22nd novel, and I've been using the Shitty First Draft method a very long time.  The book is set in 1960 rural North Carolina and is the story of a young, green social worker named Jane and her fifteen-year-old client, Ivy. As Jane discovers the secrets in Ivy's life, she's thrown into a moral dilemma that jeopardizes both her job and her marriage. Ivy is one of my all-time favorite characters and it was immense fun writing from her point of view.

            I keep all the drafts of my novels as I write. Below I'm going to show you a paragraph and the road it traveled from Shitty First Draft to the final form you'll find in the book. I hope it encourages those of you who think you need perfection right off the bat.

            In this scene, Nurse Ann, the public health nurse, is visiting Ivy. Ann is concerned that Ivy might be having sex (she is) and she wants to give her contraception. Ivy's seventeen-year-old sister Mary Ella already has a child. The scene is written from Ivy's first person point of view.

***

First Draft

            Nurse Ann showed up with contraceptives. "Open this bag."

            I opened it up and pulled out a box of spermicidal jelly.

            "This kills sperm. Sperm comes from the boy and makes babies."

            "I know that."

            "And this is what you use to get it inside you." She pulled a long tube from the bag.

            "I need to sweep the yard," I said.

            "You need to stay right here," she said.

            She opened the bag again and brought out Trojans. "These are rubbers," she said. "The boy wears these. They're even more protective than the jelly."

            "You mean protection from having a baby?"

            "That's right."

            "I don't need these things. You should talk to Mary Ella. She's gonna get pregnant again any day."

            "Mary Ella's not your business. These things are for you and you can have more if you need them."

            Why was she giving me this stuff instead of Mary Ella. I'd told Mary Ella the boy should pull out to have no babies, but she ignored me as usual.

 

Pretty shitty, huh?

Okay, here's a draft about halfway to the final.

Middle Draft

            Nurse Ann opened her bag in her lap. "I have some things here for you," she said, handing me a paper bag.

            I opened it up and pulled out a box that said spermicidal jelly on the side.

            "You don't eat this kind of jelly," she said. "It kills sperm. Sperm comes from the boy and that's what makes babies."

            "I know that."

            "Now here"—she opened the box and pulled out a long tube—"you use this to put the jelly inside you." She said how to do that and I knew my cheeks was red.

            She reached in the bag one more time and brought out little packages that said Trojan on them. "These are rubbers," she said. "The boy puts these on. They're more protective than the jelly."

            "You mean protection from having a baby?"

            "That's right."

            I handed the bag back to her. "I don't need none of this. Mary Ella's the one you should be talkin' to."

            "I'm not worried about Mary Ella right now. I'm worried about you."

            "I ain't doing nothing.

            "Well, just in case, I want you to have these things and I can bring you more if you ever need more."

            I didn't know why she wasn't giving these things to Mary Ella. I'd give them to her myself. I'd told Mary Ella about pulling out to have no more babies, but she ignored me as usual.

 

And the final draft, where I show more of Ivy's emotions.

Final Draft

            Nurse Ann opened the medical bag in her lap. "I have some things here for you," she said, handing me a paper bag. "Look inside and I'll explain how you use them."

            I opened it up and pulled out a box that said spermicidal jelly on the side.

            "This is not the kind of jelly you eat," she said. "It kills sperm. Sperm comes from the boy and that's what makes babies."

            "I know that." I wished I was someplace else.

            "Now here"—she opened the box and pulled out a long tube—"is the applicator you use to insert the jelly in your vagina." She went into a long description of how to do that and I knew my cheeks was red, listening to her. This talk was turning out worse than I expected.

            She reached in the bag one more time and brought out little packages that said Trojan on them. "These are rubbers," she said. "The boy puts these on. They're more protective than the jelly. And the best protection is using both of them together."

            "You mean protection from having a baby?" I wished she'd speak plain.

            "That's right."

            I handed the bag back to her. "I don't need none of this. Mary Ella's the one you should be talkin' to. She already got herself a baby and any day she's gonna end up with another for sure."

            "I'm not worried about Mary Ella right now. I'm worried about you."

            "No need to be. I ain't doing nothing."

            "Well, just in case, I want you to have these things and I can bring you more if you ever need more."

            I didn't know why she wasn't giving these things to Mary Ella. I'd give them to her myself. I'd told Mary Ella about the pulling out to be a way to have no more babies, and she just looked off into the blue yonder the way she always did, like she didn't hear a word I said.

 

So, there you have it, from first draft to actual book. I hope it encourages you to put your story on paper. And I hope you'll pick up a copy of Necessary Lies. Author Dorothea Benton Frank calls it "the most important book Diane Chamberlain has ever written". I look forward to hearing your thoughts about it as well.


 

 

8 comments:

Kaye Barley said...

Diane, Welcome Back! I LOVE this!!! It's so hard for me to remember this - I guess I "know" it, but am still having a very difficult time practicing it and just getting the words down for that first shi##y draft and then moving ahead.

p.s. - LOVED NECESSARY LIES!!!!!!!!! Dorothea Benton Frank was spot on with her blurb, "Diane Chamberlain’s Necessary Lies is the most important book she has ever written."

Diane Chamberlain said...

Thank you, Kaye. When I feel stuck in the writing, I still have to remind myself that putting anything on paper is better than nothing!

lil Gluckstern said...

Very interesting. Ivy certainly is more alive in the last section. I'm not a writer, but I love learning about it anyway.

jenny milchman said...

Diane, I had to stop by Kaye's wonderful M&M not only because I am a longtime fan of your work--THE MIDWIFE'S CONFESSION was an especial favorite of mine--but also because I just yesterday had breakfast with a friend of yours at a lodge in South Dakota! I'm an author, too, and when this woman heard what I did, she asked if I knew your work, and I was able to say that I more than knew it! I wish I could remember her name, but apparently her daughter is the real connection. Anyway, small world, and thanks for your wonderful books, and to Kaye, for bringing you over to M&M!

Diane Chamberlain said...

I wonder who it was, Jenny? Thanks for letting me know about that fun connection, though. Glad you're enjoying my books!

emmyleigh said...

As I sit procrastinating before writing an opening for my first novel, to take to my first proper writers' group meeting, this post was very timely! I've finished reading Necessary Lies and loved it, and hope my novel can have even a fraction of the emotional impact of yours. Thanks for sharing your drafts.

Diane Chamberlain said...

emmyleigh, you can always tell your group that your opening is still in its shitty first draft mode and then they can't really tear it apart. :)

Cindy Mathes said...

Disneyland you for your words of wisdom. I know for me, I need all the encouragement I can get. You are so kind and caring to talk to your fan and give us a look into your process. I shared this my daughter in law.