By Steven Pressfield
Published: March 25, 2015
I’m writing this on Friday, March 23, having just read Shawn’s post from today, “The Second Draft (Is Not A Draft),” which I love and which I agree with 100%. I never see what Shawn or Callie write until it appears on the blog. I don’t show ‘em my stuff early either.
Anyway I gotta chip in my two cents on the subject of second drafts.
I’m gonna say exactly what Shawn said, but using a different metaphor. Here goes:
To me, first drafts are like blitzkriegs. They’re like the Israeli army charging across the Sinai Peninsula in four days in 1967. Or our own First Marine Division rolling up to Baghdad from Kuwait in 2003.
The concept behind blitzkrieg is don’t look right, don’t look left, just keep charging forward. If you hit a place where the enemy is putting up strong resistance, don’t stop to slug it out with him. Go round his flank. Leave him where he is. Keep rolling forward.
The danger for the attacking force in such “wars of movement” is that those bypassed enemy forces will rise up and strike you. They may attack your exposed flanks or cut off your lines of supply. That’s the chance you take with blitzkrieg.
You’re betting that rapid movement and relentless forward momentum will carry your forces so deeply into enemy’s rear so fast that the foe will panic. Your advance will seem irresistible. It will acquire a perceived power greater than it actually possesses.
The other huge asset of a rapid forward thrust is that it fills your own troops with confidence. They own the initiative. They’re dictating the action. They’re acting, not reacting.
First drafts, to me, are like blitzkriegs. The aim is to get from PAGE ONE to THE END as fast as possible.
I don’t wanna give that bugger one milli-second to dig in or rally or counter-attack.
I want the enemy confused and reeling and I want my own guys brimming with confidence. Faster! Let’s roll!
And it works. I bypass all sticking points. I don’t stop to fight it out over a strategic bridge or crossroads. I find a way around and I keep going.
That’s Draft #1.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
By Callie Oettinger | Published: March 27, 2015
Ernest Hemingway opened his introduction to the anthology Men At War (which he also edited) with:
This book will not tell you how to die. Some cheer-leaders of war can always get out a pamphlet telling the best way to go through that small but necessary business at the end. PM may have published it already in a special Sunday issue with pictures. They might even have it bound up as a companion piece to the issue I read in November 1941 entitled “How We Can Lick Japan in Sixty Days.”
No. This book will not tell you how to die. This book will tell you, though, how all men from the earliest times we know have fought and died. So when you have read it you will know that there are no worse things to be gone through than men have been through before.
When you read the account of Saint Louis the IX’s Crusade you will see that no expeditionary force can ever have to go through anything as bad as those men endured. We have only to fight as well as the men who stayed and fought at Shiloh. It is not necessary that we should fight better. There can be no such thing as better.
It was an anthology, he later wrote, that was for his sons:
This introduction is written by a man, who, having three sons to whom he is responsible in some ways for having brought them into this unspeakably balled-up world, does not feel in any way detached or impersonal about the entire present mess we live in. Therefore, be pleased to regard this introduction as absolutely personal rather than impersonal writing.
This book has been edited in order that those three boys, as they grow to an age where they can appreciate it and use it and will need it, can have the book that will contain truth about war as near as we can come by it, which was lacking to me when I needed it most. It will not replace experience. But it can prepare for and supplement experience. It can serve as a corrective after experience.
I re-read sections of Men At War, knowing my personal battles will never be Shiloh, but that as was his intention for his sons, I can find truth in the anthology — a perspective not my own.
In his book The Return, Dave Danelo tells a story of sitting on a delayed plane in 2005, having just finished a series of interviews with an Iraq war veteran whose friend died alongside him:
As our ground waiting time approached an hour, the man sitting to my left fumed and cursed. He needed a reroute; his schedule was destroyed; something awful (or so he thought) would befall him if immediate action didn’t happen. Unless I found a way off the plane, I was stuck with this guy. Finally, I cut him off in mid-rant. “You know,” I said, “things could be worse.”
It is not always appropriate for veterans to remind civilians they’ve been to war. Sometimes it can be obnoxious, arrogant, or rude. But in this case, I was calm. For me, that’s usually a good indicator to decide whether I should discuss my military identity.
I told my fulminating friend I thought it was a pretty good day when I wasn’t getting mortared and shot at. Besides the risk of our plane crashing, nothing bad would happen to us. We would get where we wanted to go. Everything would work out…. We talked on and off for another two hours. I don’t remember his name.
What I remember was that I gave him perspective. I reminded him of one of the many things my time in the Corps had taught me: do not worry too much about the things you can’t control.
Dave wrote The Return (which is also Black Irish Books’ new title) for veterans, just as Hemingway edited Men At War. However, where Hem wrote of “how all men from the earliest times we know have fought and died” Dave writes of how men have fought and returned. A book written by a veteran, for other veterans, which — also like Hem’s other writings — is just as valuable to civilians.
Posted in What It Takes | 9 Comments
By Shawn Coyne | Published: March 20, 2015
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Congratulations, you now have a first draft, the raw materials for your Story.
The first draft is what Steve Pressfield calls “covering the canvass.” It has nothing to do with anyone else but you. Refrain from talking about your first draft or any particular section or sentence you recall fondly from it to any outsider…even your spouse.
You’ll probably end up cutting or changing the best parts or lines anyway and there is definitely something to not voicing creative work until you’ve thrashed it out until you’re, if not satisfied, exhausted.
When your friends ask, “How’s the book coming along?” just smile and say, “I’m making progress.” Leave it at that. If they press you for details just say that you are a superstitious person and that you made a pact with yourself that you won’t talk about the work until it’s ready for other eyes. When they ask when that will be, you can say, probably after about five drafts. Then get out of the conversation. If you can avoid it, and I highly recommend you do, don’t tell them anything about the project. Not a title, not a concept, nothing.
I can’t tell you how many writers, myself included, who regret saying anything about their works in progress. I’ll tell you why. You cannot “pitch” a project that is not complete. You’ll inevitably screw it up or worse, fudge it and recast it to please your audience.
And when you get back to your desk the next day, you’ll feel like shit. You’ll feel like you’ve betrayed the work that you’ve already done. Pulled off the towel and revealed the naked truth of it…that it’s half-baked, it’s derivative etc.
The fact is that your first draft and/or notes on writing the first draft aren’t even close to half-baked. You are merely pulling together the ingredients to make something later on. How can you describe a brand new kind of cake if you haven’t made it yet? You can’t. So be quiet. The first draft and everything in your head that is swimming around on the entire project is sacred. If you can, don’t even tell anyone that you’re writing. Seriously.
Okay, so now you have a blob of material called a first draft. You have no idea if any of it is working. You don’t know where the problem areas are, nor do you know the strengths of the work either. How can you possibly figure that out?