At our Poetry Special next week, we’re asking some of our favourite poets to read us a truly ‘first draft’ poem; something they’ve never shared in public before. While we wait anxiously, one of our performers, Rebecca Audra Smith, gives us a guest blog on the nature of first drafts…
There is novel sitting on my laptop in a file named Crackle. It is a first draft. I wrote it as part of NaNoWriMo (Write a novel in November, of all months…). Word Count: 50,000. I was a ‘winner’ in 2012, writing it in one intense burst of writing.
I planned it thus, there would be 15 characters, the first part would be a chapter of each character, and the second part would be the second chapter of each character. In the second part I began killing off my characters as is traditional in a first draft novel. The third part was therefore the voices of the survivors. I cannot remember how many were left of the fifteen, possibly three?
You could say, well it’s sitting on your laptop why don’t you go check who survives? It’s somewhat careless not to know you did create those characters. But it’s a first draft, it is as terrifyingly raw as an octopus in a Chinese restaurant, brought in for inspection in a thrashing bucket seconds before it is boiled. I do not have the guts to digest this stuff.
I want to look at it. I even tried to edit the first chapter and it wasn’t as painful as you’d imagine. It squirmed under my gaze and everything felt uncomfortable, but that was okay. It wasn’t the stomach churning disgust I was anticipating. The reverse of falling in love with your child, falling in hate with your first draft novel.
Poems when they are first drafts are beautiful. They feel so complete, they take up their space on the page and wear it like old jumpers, it sags around their shoulders, or it fits uncomfortably tight, and you as editor readjust the fit till the poem wears the page like it was meant to, or almost meant to, or is it maybe the wrong colour? But it’s definitely got the texture you were after. Maybe a different garment altogether is needed? All these things can be done, the choices are there for you, and the more you write the more choices are available.
My first draft novel on the other hand is chaos, a badly built house that has been thrown up overnight. A shantytown whose occupants mill around without employment, beach huts without history, only the odd nude flash of emotion. Zadie Smith also uses the house metaphor for her analysis of types of writers/editors. She recommends being a Micro Manager rather than a Macro, ‘Micro Managers build a house floor by floor, discretely and in its entirety.’ This is editing as you go stuff, she mentions choosing wallpaper.
I look at that file and I think, I will edit it next year.
Rebecca Audra Smith is a lyrical feminist poet living in Manchester. She co-hosts Stirred Poetry and is a member of NoMorePage3Mcr. She has performed at Reclaim the Night, guested at Queer of the Unknown and is published in Loose Muse feminist Anthologies 2 and 3. You can see some of her work here.
What’s next, First Draft?
Funny you should ask that…
First and foremost, you can catch Rebecca performing at First Draft’s Poetry Special ft Longfella on Monday night (13th October) at Gullivers. It’s free, it’s open to everyone, and you can choose whether you want to come along for a free poetry workshop, or just rock up a bit later to see the poets in action.
Next up, on Monday 20th October, you can join us back at The Castle Hotel for our Hallowe’en event: First Draft’s Fright Night! Look out for more guest blogs on that theme over the next couple of weeks, and read Ben Jewell‘s here.