What a First Draft Isn’t
The American novelist James A. Michener once said: ‘I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.’ And Ernest Hemingway is quoted as having said: ‘The first draft of anything is shit’. The aim of the first draft is not to obtain the burnished gem. Redrafting is what separates the jewel from the rock, it polishes and refines. The first draft is the vital exploratory dig.
The best ideas always emanate from the subconscious. Have you ever stayed up all night pulling your hair out trying to ‘think’ of a solution only to wake up with it clear in your mind, or become unexpectedly inspired when out walking or performing some other activity? Creativity and inspiration (which amount to the same thing) are born not from the cold, clear waters of conscious thought, but from deep in the hidden, searing depths of the mind.
Forget that clichéd image of the writer clutching at his hair over a typewriter, agonising over each word, scrunching papers into a basket — or over a keyboard hitting the delete key. Not feeling able to write — a majority of the time — comes from a fear of letting go and trusting the subconscious to shine through. However, if we relax, we will dig further and reach more wonderful, glittering depths than we thought capable.
Keep on Moving
One of the best ways of achieving greater creativity is to keep the hand moving — this applies to any writing, fiction and non-fiction. If you give the mind a chance to slow down and think, something undesired happens. Consciousness rises and a voice hovers over your shoulder. It will whisper into your ear: ‘you can’t write that’, ‘that sounds ridiculous’, or ‘nobody wants to read that’. It sows seeds of doubt not fire. And soon it stays your hand completely. But keep the hand moving and you will silence that troublesome voice. I call this the internal editor. The editor has no place during the initial creative process. They seek to enfold everything with a veil of sense, but creation is not about sense, it is about passion and wonder.
I worked for many years in the IT industry. First as a software engineer then as a database developer. I was required to write many lines of code each day, and figured early on, that if I wanted to work more efficiently, then I had to learn to touch type.
I borrowed a piece of software from my sister called Mavis Beacon. It taught you how to keep your index fingers on the home keys (‘F’ and ‘J’) and which fingers to use for which keys via a series of games. In one you were driving a car and had to type quickly before the bugs hit the window. It was initially difficult because I had grown bad habits — ‘hunting’ and ‘pecking’ at keys with my head turned down. But over the space of a few months, I learned to touch type without having to look down at all. My productivity increased. This skill stood me in good stead for many years. And is more important now than ever.
I can now touch type fairly accurately without looking at the screen. And it might sound a bit strange, but sometimes when I’m writing I like to defocus and allow the words filter through. Of course, errors will creep in, but that’s what spell checkers are for. Some things may not make sense, that’s what redrafting’s for — to cut and polish. Just as a slight slip underfoot should not deter the whole mountain climb, neither should spelling and grammatical mistakes, or the odd divergent thread stop your progress.
So it is my firm belief that we can write with less self-consciousness and greater creativity by writing faster. As Michener and Hemingway have pointed out, the first draft needn’t be good because it can be rewritten, it only needs to be inspired and infused with fire and passion. And that comes from letting go, trusting the subconscious, and keeping the hand moving.
Mavis Beacon is still one of the best paid softwares for learning typing. But there are also plenty of free websites. And while they might not be as fully featured, they may be sufficient for starting and gauging your existing skills. Typing.com seems like a good place to start if you haven’t tried one before. It has a series of tests and games to hone your keyboard skills. A quick one minute test revealed that I have a typing speed of 66 WPM with a 98% accuracy.
Whether you prefer to write long hand or use a computer. Try writing for at least ten minutes without thinking. Keep the hand moving and let the words come through. Don’t think. Don’t expect it to always make sense. That is not the point. Remember we are not refining the gem at this stage. We are doing something much more important and daring. We are pioneers exploring a land of words and wonder.
Image by: Romain Peli via Unsplash