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Posted Friday, August 19, 2011, at 9:42 AM

Now, about your first draft. My friend Betty Taylor, of Hartley, is a retired schoolteacher and a talented author. She used to tell her students that their first draft was their "sloppy copy." (Betty tells me she first heard this phrase when she attended the Iowa Writing Project years ago.) She found that her students were often intimidated by the idea of revising, and if she told them to submit a "first draft" it just drove home the fact that there would be a second and possibly a third draft, to the point where they didn't even want to start a writing project. Calling the first draft their "sloppy copy" actually sounded kind of fun and eliminated some of the fear factor.

Even before I'd heard the expression, this has always been my method of choice, to write my first draft as quickly as I could, just to get it all down on paper. That doesn't mean that's how you have to do it, but it works well for me. I throw in everything into my first draft, working from my outline, and I don't worry about spelling, structure, syntax, typos...anything. My goal is to just get the story down on paper.

In my writing classes I've had people comment that they can't get to chapter two until they feel chapter one is perfect. I've said it before but it bears repeating: If you aim for perfection in your first draft, you'll never finish your book. But if you just fly through to the end, the sense of accomplishment that comes with getting to the last page of your book is invaluable. It's been said that 90% of those who start a book never finish it, so getting to the end of your book - even the sloppy copy - is something to be proud of.

Once I've finished my first draft, I go back to the beginning and work through it again, this time cleaning up redundancies, checking spelling - doing a general nip and tuck, all the way to the end. Then I do it again, perhaps this time making sure the chapters begin and end where I want them to, tightening up the structure, etc. Then again. And again. I'll look for inconsistencies, making sure that my heroine's green eyes on chapter one haven't changed to hazel by chapter fourteen. (That's where the Character Worksheet comes in handy.) And again - checking my verbs, examining my word choices. It's not unlikely that I'll go through a complete manuscript, from beginning to end, a dozen times or more. The good news is that with each pass-through the manuscript begins to look more and more like a real book.


A compliment is a flattering statement.

"She learned that his compliments were always two edged and his tenderest expressions open to suspicion." Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.

When something complements something else, it means they go well together.

A Bit of Promotion:

Roger Stoner of Peterson, Iowa, will have a new book out soon. Horse Woman's Child: A Novel About Clashing Cultures on the American Frontier, historical fiction, is Roger's 25-year opus, a project truly of his heart. Some of you might know Roger's work from his nonfiction collection of columns, Life with my Wife: The Memoir of an Imperfect Man, which came out last year. His new book, a fascinating read about the early settlers - including Abbie Gardner and her family - will be available at the Art Barn during the Clay County Fair.

"Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head."
From the movie Finding Forrester.

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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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