Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Delightful Excesses of a First Draft

On my journey into a frightening, cluttered cabinet in the kitchen, I came across an old recipe book from my childhood called,Southern Cookbook *250 Fine Old Recipes*.  It is filled with pages and pages of deliciousness that would make a Weight Watcher’s coach keel over in shock.

The recipe that caught my eye was for Kentucky Burgoo. It’s a special stew that is traditionally served on the day of the Kentucky Derby. Burgoo is the quintessential definition of excess. (Recipe to follow – brace yourself.)

In a non sequitur way, my writing brain shifted to a first draft where excess rules supreme.

(This is the portion of the post where plotters wring their hands and gnash their teeth, while pantsers dance naked in the forest.)

Where else in our writing process can we toss everything lying around the corners of our brain into the story? The first draft is the “try anything” canvas. We jump from the high dive. The “editor has left the room sign” should be blinking when we pour out our heart and soul into the birth of our manuscript. We should break out into the song “Anything Goes.”

Sprinkle in similes
Mess with metaphors
Align audacious alliteration
Electrify your eloquence
Scintillate the story stakes
Offer up onomatopoeia
Mesmerize your MC 
Quantify your quest
Hold nothing back and fall in love with your story.

There is plenty of time – and necessity - in the revision process for trimming, slashing, rethinking, changing, changing, and changing again.

My wish for you is to taste that wild abandon where you plunge into the garden of excess, writing on the white hot wave of inspiration during your glorious first draft.

Historically served to huge crowds at political rallies, horse sales, and other outdoor events. (Hmmm – maybe an idea for the SCBWI LA Conference gala?)
600 lbs. lean soup meat (no fat, no bones)
200 lbs. fat hens
2000 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced
200 lbs. onions
5 bushels of cabbage, chopped
60 10lb. cans of tomatoes
24 10lb. cans puree of tomatoes
24 10lb. cans of carrots
18 10lb. cans of corn
Red pepper and salt to taste (are you laughing yet?)
Season with Worcestershire, Tabasco, or steak sauce
Mix the ingredients, a little at a time, and cook outdoors in huge iron kettles over wood fires from 15 to 20 hours. Use squirrels in season…one dozen squirrels to each 100 gallons. (I did not make up the squirrel part. Who knew there was an actual squirrel season?)

And THAT, my friends, is excess. Happy first drafting.


  1. I love the first draft. Sigh. It's revision that's so difficult. Why can't everything just come out all perfect?

  2. OMG! You've outdone yourself. It's the perfect advice!! But are you saying that that recipe is a rough draft? GOD I HOPE SO especially with the squirrels... *shivers* So not kosher.

  3. :) Great advice, I so agree! It's hard to let ourselves go crazy on the first draft, but it's also necessary. :)

  4. Leslie, in my neck of the woods, we call that recipe Brunswick Stew! Looks basically the same to me, except we add butter beans (limas to you outside the region). And I love it!

    About the first draft -- I tend toward the spare rather than the excess. While I definitely have to cut some stuff I work in first, I almost always have to add more because I my beginning drafts just hit the basics.

    Love your post! :-)

  5. I have a different perspective on first draft.I prefer spending more time planning ahead than revising. That way my revisions require less slashing an cutting and more just tweaking and polishing. But my methods are not for everyone.

  6. Lee - I agree with you. The first draft is such a rush.

    Lisa - You have to go to the kosher market to get the right kind of squirrel.

    Bethany - Welcome. It is so hard to turn that editor off and trust the raw creativity in the first draft.

    Susan - Brunswick sounds delish. Butter beans are a weakness of mine.

    Laurisa - I often have a full spiral notebook full of loosely ordered ideas before I start. To me the thrill is the surprises that show themselves in that wild first draft.

  7. Leslie, this post cracked me up. Squirrel? Seriously? OMG, hilarious.

    About first drafts, I'm a bit slow. I'm revising book #2, and as you know, I'm stripping a bit of that "wild abandon" away. Hopefully enough but not too much!

  8. Julie - I swear I'm sitting here in the forest and a squirrel just ran along the deck rail. He's probably lurking outside to pop me in a stew.

  9. Oh, this is hilarious!

    Alliteration reigns supreme in my first drafts. I simply cannot help it. (Alliteration Addicts Anonymous, anyone?) I need this advice because my internal editor has become a bit of a tyrant, and I can't shut her up a go with the flow like I used to when I was just learning the craft and writing with that blissful abandon of the dreamy-eyed newbie.

    But seriously, 600 lbs of soup meat??? I thought cooking for a family of 12 was an undertaking! (Poor squirrels!)

  10. 2000 lbs. of potatoes? Oh, I've got to see that. I've never met a potato I didn't like... ;)

  11. MIchelle - I think all internal editors who try and attack our first drafts are tyrants with unnaturally sharp teeth.

    Elana - I'm so honored that you popped over to my blog. I'm a massive POSSESSION fan. You know what would go great with all those taties? Bacon!

  12. All the ingredients are really very healthy - nothing in excess here except the quantities! I loved the "scintillate the story stakes"!

  13. Squirrels???? Yikes!!

    I love first drafts - definitely my favourite part of the whole process! I'd much rather delete than add in revisions so throwing it all in is the best part!

  14. I love both of your recipes! Just have to get busy and stir them into something delectable. Thanks for them.

  15. Margo - I'd like to see the size of those stew pots!

    Jemi -I agree. I revel in the mess of the first draft.

    Thanks, Lee.

  16. Love your description of what a first draft looks like! However, as it isn't squirrel season, I think I'll skip the stew, thankyouverymuch.
    Thanks so much visiting and commenting when I did my guest spot at Lee's place. I appreciate it.
    Tina @ Life is Good