The Pile-of-Crap First Draft

One of the most deadly criticisms of National Novel Writing Month (among others) is that it encourages people to write crap. The naysayers who think they’re doing a good thing by warning naive would-be writers away from the yearly event choose to ignore that it gives permission to write crap if the fear of doing just that is what’s been holding you back. It doesn’t insist on crap.

And when a well-known, admired, and prize-winning novelist reveals that his most famous book was written in a month — by hand — it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of anyone who insists you can’t write a good novel in a month. The first draft of The Remains of the Day was, in some ways, the pile of crap everyone fears.

“I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on.”

There’s a big difference, of course, between an experienced writer and someone who’s about to attempt their very first major piece of fiction. Ishiguro can write a crap first draft because he knows how to write a novel, and knows that it will go through many drafts. The novice can’t help writing a crap first draft, but it’s only the first step to something that might become many times better.

Ishiguro tells us why he spent an entire month of crash writing, and how he did it. It’s also a fascinating look into some unusual sources of inspiration that he drew on.

Kazuo Ishiguro: how I wrote The Remains of the Day in four weeks


5 thoughts on “The Pile-of-Crap First Draft

    1. I don’t think it’s possible either, unless you’ve already given it a good deal of thought. Ishiguro had already done research for the book, and he must have been thinking about it for a long time. Trying to do it off the top of your head is what a lot of new Nano participants do, and those are the ones who are unlikely even to finish, much less write anything that doesn’t need to go right into the trash.

  1. I have a very short production method. 1) quick crappy draft to get the ideas suggested by my plotting software out of my head. 2) spend an enormous amount of time, scene by scene, turning each scene into a finished jewel. 3) quick typo runthrough.

    I’m about to do 2) again. Don’t expect to see me often, at least not in a coherent state. But I love it.

    1. Except for NaNo, I don’t really have a production method. I might write a few chapters of a novel and set it aside, either because I’m temporarily stuck or another idea has taken hold of me. Look at Work in Progress, which I just added to the sidebar. Six WIPs, and those are only the ones I’ll be working on for the next few months. Many more waiting their turn. I might get more accomplished if I *did* have a method. Maybe I should give that some thought for the future.

      Don’t worry about disappearing off and on. My Australian friend and I are used to each other’s time-outs for work or recuperation.

      1. I don’t dare work on anything else: Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD is like building the Titanic; it uses all the resources I have. all the space, all the inventiveness. Even necessary stuff like marketing Book 1 is on hold until this baby’s ready – for revision. Not even for publication.

        I put in my hours every day, and then I go stare at the wall for a while.

        Funny how we all work so differently.

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