Tuesday, December 20, 2005

First Drafts

As I've mentioned before, I still work half-time for the Mars Education Program writing a curriculum package that we had committed to before I left to strike out on my own. I'm writing this set of activities for the Phoenix mission, which will be launched in 2007 to Mars, if all goes as planned. The activities are designed to teach students what the major properties of soil are and how we measure them so that when the Phoenix lander starts sending back similar data about Martian soil ("regolith," technically, since "soil" implies there is life present) they will be better equipped to understand what the data mean. There is a companion soil habitability curriculum that I was originally going ot write as well, but have luckily managed to farm that off on someone else (much rejoicing!).

Tonight, the director of the education program asked if I would send them some of the early drafts I've completed. They are starting work on the soil habitability curriculum and want to make sure the formats match as closely as possible. I think that's a great idea (and in fact, I'm surprised as they typically don't do things until the very last minute over there). There's only one problem: I'm extremely uncomfortable letting anyone see my work until it's finished.

Now, fiction writers "workshop" their works-in-progress all the time. The idea is to get feedback on the early draft so that they don't have quite as much rewriting to do later on. I don't like it at all. I don't want anyone to see anything less than my current professional best for any reason. I will often submit a piece for comments that I think is as done as I can get at a particular stage (even knowing that the piece isn't really finished), but I find it hard to evaluate (or accept the evaluation) of a piece that isn't at least complete. The reader has to guess what is missing and try to fill in the missing pieces herself. Unless she is a particularly amazing psychic, her imagination is probably not going to match mine.

The same thing is true in the educational products I develop. I've acquired something of Scotty's (of Star Trek) reputation as a "miracle worker" in the field. I think a small part of that reputation is because I don't let anyone see the junk I write that makes up the first draft. Ego? You betcha! But building a reputation for being the best is much easier when no one sees anything but your best work.

For some people, getting comments on a early draft is very helpful to them, and I think that's great. For me, though, I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I want to say in the story before it's written. The early reader may or may not get that, depending on how far along in the process I am, but I don't think it's worth her time to give me comments when I haven't yet communicated what it is I'm trying to say. I recognize that not every piece I write is going to work. But I want to at least try to say it my way first, and we'll talk about changes after that.

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