January 10th, 2011

First Drafts Are So Embarrassing with Jessica Westhead: Notebook Love

Mainly Rose-coloured is a solo exercise–I think of stuff to do, then I do it, then I tell you about it (challenges, resolutions). Or I do stuff, then tell you how I liked it (reviews). Or I just rattle on endlessly with no real point (almost everything else). On rare occasions, I ask other folk to do stuff with me, and those usually wind up being the coolest posts. As with FDASE–I started posting some of my embarrassing first-draft material, as well as how I cleaned it up, and asked if anyone else wanted to share. And what’s cool is, some do! For example, today, talent novelist and short-story writer and generally lovely human, Jessica Westhead–take it away, Jessica!

Notebook Love

by Jessica Westhead

Since taking Lynda Barry’s life-changing workshop, “Writing the Unthinkable,” in 2008, I have embraced handwriting as the best possible route to a first draft. And in becoming a passionate paper convert, I have re-embraced the humble notebook. Over the years, I spurned notebooks for random scraps of paper—I’d write ideas on those, and if I didn’t lose them, I’d round up a bunch and transcribe their contents into a big Word file. And more often than not, the ideas would die there. I’d forget about them, or, even if I did revisit these onscreen bits and pieces later, I’d feel disconnected from them. Which was all very disheartening.

But notebooks! I recently had the epiphany that the notebook is for writers what the sketchbook is for artists. This may sound ridiculously obvious, but it was a revelation to me. Not everything I write down has to be publishable! It’s all practice! I even have a little shelf of filled-up notebooks in my office at home:


Over the past few years, for short-story writing, my process has been first to get new ideas down in my notebooks, either through solo writing; in other super-inspiring workshops such as Stuart Ross’s Poetry Boot Camp or Sarah Selecky’s Writing Practice classes; or during meetings of a writing quartet I’m part of with the brilliant Sarah Selecky, Grace O’Connell, and Sarah Henstra (we call ourselves “The Jupiter Group”), in which we take turns hosting and giving each other writing exercises. I don’t commit anything to a computer file until I have a rough beginning, middle, and end figured out in a notebook. Once I do, I transcribe that story outline into Word, and then I go back to my notebooks to find ideas to fill it out. And voilà—a first draft!

That’s how I wrote “Everyone Here Is So Friendly”. It began as a writing exercise I gave myself, and, much to my delight, quickly evolved into a full-fledged story. Then I revised it with feedback from The Jupiter Group, and submitted it to The Puritan, where it was eventually published.

Here are my notebook pages where “Everyone Here Is So Friendly” originated:




I should mention that this was an ideal scenario—by no means do all my stories announce themselves so immediately and insistently. In general, though, this is how notebook writing works for me, and why I love the old-fashioned pen-on-pages method so much.

(Thanks, Rebecca!)

***
It’s RR again, just to thank Jessica for playing along and sharing her cool work (not really embarrassing at all, come to think of it). And also to say, if anyone else would care to share their first drafts and/or process proceeding from first drafts, they would be very very welcome. I should point out, because I know my audience, that it FDASE posts don’t have to be fiction just because it’s what I do–poems, articles, essays, or really anything you’ve revised is fine.

4 Responses to “First Drafts Are So Embarrassing with Jessica Westhead: Notebook Love”

  • Sarah Selecky says:

    […] to the year of your new notebook. Welcome to the year of your first drafts, middle drafts, and final drafts. Welcome to the year of your ordinary and astounding daily writing […]


  • Happy New Year | Sarah Selecky says:

    […] to the year of your new notebook. Welcome to the year of your first drafts, middle drafts, and final drafts. Welcome to the year of your ordinary and astounding daily writing […]


  • Happy New Year! | Sarah Selecky says:

    […] Tarrant     Welcome to the year of your new notebook. Welcome to the year of your first drafts, middle drafts, and final drafts. Welcome to the year of your ordinary and astounding daily writing […]


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  • Leave a Reply

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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