Picture taking a good friend to your favorite restaurant to which they’ve never been.
Imagine you’re on your way, and you’re going on and on about the best dishes to order. The directions are probably clear in your mind. The neighborhoods. Notable landmarks.
Before long, you’ve arrived. Open the doors and walk in. Think about the atmosphere, and answer these questions.
- What colors and decor do you see?
- What do you hear?
- What do you smell?
- What do you order?
- What do you talk about?
- Who will pay?
Relatively easy to answer, right?
After all, it’s your favorite restaurant, and they’re your good friend. You may have even thought of other details I didn’t ask about, and if you had to put it all on paper, it could easily result in several pages.
But how difficult would it be for your friend to write about the same experience? They might open with, “I finally went to that restaurant with so and so.” They may add important details like whether or not the food lived up to the hype, how fast the service was, and how expensive the menu items were.
But will they remember to go north on Calumet Ave. and turn right on Hoffman St.? What about the parrot statue hanging from the ceiling or the scent of fry oil from the freshly made chips? Probably not because they don’t need to. They’re explicitly there to spend time with a good friend while trying something new. Even if they have a great time, chances are slim that it will become their favorite restaurant right away. It usually takes two or three visits to determine that.
This is why I say draft like you’ve never done it before. The truth is, you haven’t. You’re experiencing your story elements for the first time (on paper at least). It’s a recipe for frustration to expect the first or even second draft to be as detailed as a trip to your favorite restaurant. Doing so will likely take you down many paths that aren’t necessary so early in the process, causing delays and increasing the need for rewrites later on.
Instead, pretend a good friend (i.e. your imagination) has been talking up your story, and you’re finally able to experience it. Try to relax and enjoy the new adventure your first draft takes you on. There will be some highlights like major scene and plot elements, but otherwise, you just need to capture enough detail to move along. Draft two can add depth since you already know what to expect, but will likely include rewrites that keep you from the necessary minutia. Around draft three, you can get as nuanced as required, and that’s when your story starts to become your favorite restaurant.
At this point, you can get others (alpha/beta readers/editors/agents) excited about the best dish your story serves. Keep in mind that it almost certainly won’t be their favorite the first time they experience it, and that is part of the process.