No, I’m not talking about the four-letter variety. I mean those proverbial million bad words that every writer has to write before getting published.
Whether or not you buy into the million bad word theory, you have to admit that most of our early writings are pretty bad. I started skimming over Conspiracy today as I was starting the Great Transfer from Word to Scrivener (headache and a half, BTW), and some of the early stuff is just appalling. It makes me cringe. Adverbs, glances in the mirror, distant viewpoint… oh, it’s so bad, some of it.
A tiny part of me wants to say, “The hell with it!” and just rewrite the whole damn thing from scratch without ever looking at the first draft.
That’s not a productive thing to do, though, and I’ll tell you why.
I started a new job today. It’s part-time at a small gifts, jewelry, and et cetera store, right on our town’s lovely little square. I enjoy shopping at this store, and I think I’ll like working there. I’m old-hat at retail, too, so I’m learning the ropes without too much hair-pulling.
But every time anyone starts a new job, there is much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothing. You inevitably charge someone too much, make an ass of yourself, and can’t find the socks in a shoe department, just because you’re new at the job. It’s horrible, you’re rushing around like a kid on field day at school, and nothing adds up.
A few months later, you look at those days and grimace. Thing is, though, you would never have become competent at your job without those awkward headless chicken moments.
The early words in a novel are like those early days at a job. You’re getting your feet under you, learning your characters’ voices, figuring out where the socks are and who needs them.
I feel this metaphor is unraveling as my cold medicine wears off, so I’ll wrap it up with this: You have to learn from the bad words. Don’t ignore them, or you’ll never figure out why they’re bad. Just let them teach you how your novel works, and in few more drafts, no one will ever know they existed.