Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Making Clay

I hate first drafts. HATE them! They are slow and torturous and overwhelming. But today, as I was staring at the screen waiting for inspiration writing, I got to thinking about an exercise I sometimes do with students when I’m talking about revision. 
The first thing I do with the kids is hand each of them a small ball of Play-doh™ (or similar modeling clay). Then I ask them to spend a few minutes creating whatever they’d like. Depending on the age of the kids, I usually get plenty of snakes, bowls, snowmen and the like. Once everyone is happy with their work, I ask them to roll the dough back up into a ball and make something else. Most of the time, I get groans and protests. “But I like what I made!”
They usually comply, though, and end up happily rolling and pinching and creating. Then I explain that this is what revision is - just playing with what you’ve already got. Maybe you make something altogether new or maybe you just make something better. On a good day, I get plenty of “Aha!” moments. It’s awesome.
I love revision. But here’s the problem though - you can’t revise without “something” to work with. So I’ve decided to start thinking of first drafts as nothing more than making clay.
Since I’ve written a bunch of craft books, I know a thing or two about making clay. Mixing up clay can be consuming and not always an exact science. (Especially if you’re making up a new recipe!) Sometimes you add a little of this but then find you need a little more of that. You get gunk all over your work space and yourself. And Heaven help you if you have an itch or the phone rings!

But isn’t it also wonderful to put your hands in the bowl and get them all dirty and squish the wet stuff between your fingers? And isn’t it fun to think about all the things you’re going to make? Or commiserate with someone nearby while the two of you are both elbow deep in a mess? Isn’t it satisfying when you look down and realize that the clay is perfect and ready for molding? And that while your hands are tired, it’s a good kind of tired? Isn't it awesome to share your clay with friends?
Yeah. All that stuff is pretty darn cool, too. 
So tomorrow when I open the file on my WIP, I won’t be writing a first draft: I’ll be making some clay.


  1. Since I just started my WIP too, I'll try to look at it like that. Maybe it will cut down on staring-dumb-at-the-screen time. Thanks for the post!

  2. LOVE this! What a fun way to teach revision and a fabulous way to view a WIP. Thanks for posting! :)

  3. Great post, Car! I love that idea, that first you have to make the clay and then you can work with it.

  4. Nice post. Love the analogy between a first draft and a lump of clay.

  5. Yup, revising is a lot more fun when you have a book to revise! Keep making that clay. You may be surprised at how good it turns out.

  6. Oh, I feel just the way you do about first drafts. I like to get to the place where I have something to edit, but I can't write lightning-fast drafts like some can. I like the draft/clay connection.

  7. Awesome way of thinking about it! I don't really like writing first drafts either, I like playing around with it after - like with the clay. I can't get over how similar they really are.


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