Geetanjali Mukherjee

Monday, June 10, 2013

First Draft is King

This week I have been volunteering with this organisation that I have been part of for many years on a show put up by a bunch of young people in July, here in Singapore. I am helping with the script of the musical, something that I have never worked on before.

I actually didn’t write the first draft, someone else wrote the scenes and placeholders for dances and songs that are being composed by others. To be perfectly honest, the draft I saw didn’t read too well, it felt very stiff and formal, the dialogue was stilted and the essence of the story, the emotions weren’t really coming across. I was brought in to make changes as I saw fit, along with the director, which has now meant going over the entire script and making changes to everything other than the underlying structure.
Through this process I learnt so much about my own struggles to complete my writing projects. Although the first draft was quite flawed, without it in place our process would have taken twice or three times as long. Just in my mind, having something to work on made me approach the work differently, with a lot more confidence and less pressure than I would otherwise have faced. I was able to chunk the work in my mind down into this set of lines, this scene, this speech. I worked on it a bit at a time, and the combination of reduced pressure and focus on a few lines at a time helped to completely transform the script.
It’s a work in progress, which should be done in the next couple of days. However, already the dialogue is much more natural, important elements are being added in, the design flaws are being considered and better alternatives found. And most importantly, I realised the fundamental importance of a completed first draft, no matter how terrible. Sure I have read many great writers talk about shi**y first drafts, but I just assumed that since they are great writers, their standards of really terrible would differ from mine, and there was no way I could write really badly and then improve it substantially. I assumed I would have to sort out the knotty design and structural problems, figure out where to add in the really important thematic points and have all my research done BEFORE I worked on the first draft because these were substantive issues. Now I have the confidence to know that drafts can be completely transformed just by changing a few things, and even the many changes seem few when layered onto an existing, completed document.
So lesson learned – first draft is really king, and anything can be achieved ONCE the first draft is in place.
So what project are you putting off till you have all the elements in place, where you can start right now with a baseline first draft?
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