First Drafts are meant to rubbish, of course, because they’re the result of mind-spillage, the instant, often instinctive, creative flow oozing on out onto the page. Later comes the redefining, redrafting and editing from which, eventually, a honed and good Final Draft appears. But it doesn’t stop it being shocking, embarrassing and gutting when you read it back...and find that it really is rubbish.
In terms of my poetry process this year, I decided to split the first attempt of a poem into First Thoughts and then a separate document called First Draft – so that I can free myself of the flow in the former, and begin to craft in the latter. When writing the First Thoughts of the next poem in my sequence, about a thesaurus using alchemy imagery, my imagination whizzed and zinged around like shooting stars and crashing comets, leading to a First Draft where I thought I had it down; thought the skeleton of the piece was there with most of its muscles and a bit of flesh, and that I’d only have to paper on the rest and sprinkle in some soul to make it breathe.
Oh how wrong I was. The words on the page are flat, repetitive and prose-like. So what was happening to me when I was writing it, because I truly thought it was the opposite...?
Freya North says it better than me in her novel ‘Pillow Talk’ (a good, intelligent and yet light-hearted book, well worth a read). Her protagonist Petra makes her own jewellery and has a gemstone which is waiting; waiting for the right arrangement, the perfect setting that she hasn’t come up with yet – until:
“...all of a sudden she knows what to do with her tanzanite; what it wants to be. She’s just been afforded a dazzling glimpse of how the finished piece might look...She had caught sight of the end result and it’s thrilling.”
That’s what happened to me. I had the sudden flash of Finished, the film-reel spooling on past drafting and hard work, clattering to a stop at the final feeling. A sense of what my thesaurus/alchemy poem wants to be, what it could be. But how to make it that? Toil. And lots of it. I need to redefine my idea so that my angle is original; wield my words better so that they’re imaginative and surprising; and get right to the core of it, cut out all the prose-bits, in order to distil it into poetry.
So it’s hi-ho, hi-ho, off to work Deb goes...! Wish me luck – I’ll keep you posted how it goes.