Friday, December 2, 2011

Meeting of the Mines: Finding the gems in your first draft

WNI Guest Blog by T. Dawn Richard

Not long ago I was struggling with my latest writing project. I knew what I wanted to say, I knew how I wanted my readers to feel while reading each scene, and yet I wasted a lot of time shuffling words, rearranging sentences, and deleting junk that didn’t add anything at all to the story. The task looked like a mountain I didn’t have the strength to climb. To put it mildly, I just wasn’t in love with the monster I’d created. The thoughts that played in my head went something like this: This is awkward, disjointed, fluffy, puffy, and unclear. I’m rambling. I’m not able to find the right words. Will I ever write this book?

So what to do when you can’t find the answers? Speed-dial little sister.

My sister is always good for a story and a laugh. In fact, I’ve never known anyone who has led a more interesting life. There’s never a dull moment in her schedule and I just wanted to let her talk so I didn’t have to think about my problems. Her latest adventure? Hunting sapphires in the mountains near her Montana home.

“What we do,” she said, “Is drive up to this place where they hand you a bucket of dirt.”

“Dirt?” I responded, shaking myself from my depressed fog. “And you pay for this?”

“Yes. Then you pick up a metal tray, but the bottom of the tray is a screen used for sifting the dirt. You dump the dirt in and lower the bottom of the tray into a trough which contains water. You move the dirt around, just letting the water flow through. You turn it, rock it, shake it flat, and then flip the tray upside down. And if you’ve done it right, nestled in the middle of the pile of mud you’ll see these little things that look like small chunks of glass.”

“Glass? And how much do you pay for that?”

“Wait. Not glass; they’re uncut, unpolished sapphires! They’re beautiful!”

“They’re beautiful?”

“Well, it doesn’t end there. After you dig them out, they need to be cut and polished, and then you’ve got some extremely gorgeous gems.”

After that phone call I reflected on what I’d learned about mining for sapphires. The gems are in there, you just have to sift through a lot of dirt to find them. And once you have them in your hand, there’s still work to do. Polish, cut, and voila! Beautiful.

Back to work. Somewhere in that big pile of dirt I called a novel were gems waiting to be mined.

So, fellow writers, when you feel disappointed with a first draft don’t worry about the clutter - that will get sifted out in rewrites. Find the gems, polish them, and cut the facets. See the beauty and shine, and at the end of the day you’ll have something precious in your hands.

And what are these gems we’re looking for in our writing? A brilliant turn of phrase, a sentence that captures a landscape perfectly, a unique metaphor, a spot-on character description. Save what works, toss the rest.

Spokane author T. Dawn Richard is a full time writer and author of the May List Mystery Series. We know how busy she is and appreciate her taking the time to share her writing experiences with us. Her first book in the Amateur Sleuth series, Death for Dessert, was published in 2003, followed byDigging up Otis, and A Wrinkle in Crime. Dawn completed two screenplays in 2009 and has several other projects in the works.

Her books are available on

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

Great analogy, Dawn. I just read James Patterson's 10 tips for writing. He also says to write and polish later. It is fun for me to edit my drafts when I come across something that particularly pleases me like "a spot-on description." Thanks for guest blogging.