A Tale of Three Prototypes

One of the things I say to aspiring authors is that the number one reason a writer never sees publication is that they don’t finish that first draft.

The thing is, first drafts are ugly. They’re universally terrible. Anyone who says they’re a one-draft writer either has no sense of quality control, or they’re lying. I said what I said.

The first draft is a place to get ideas from the brain to the page, and it’s hard to make that happen if you’re overly focussed on making it pretty.

It’s a prototype.

These books and more right here.

One day a week, I volunteer in a sewing workshop, where we make things to sell for a charity that provides meals, classes, and a safe hangout for vulnerable people. Sometimes I make things, sometimes I teach people how to make things, and sometimes I sell things in our little shop. 

It’s fun, and lately it’s been inspiring me to make my own things for sale.

And that means prototyping.

I don’t have my own shop open yet, though I have accounts set up and ready to go. My goal is to have a few things to sell before the holiday shopping season kicks off. 

But first I have to get my designs right.

Behold, three cat collars.

Three handmade cat collars.
Three handmade cat collar prototypes.

The one on the left was the first. It taught me lessons about measurements—of velcro, of elastic, of fabric and of all of these things relative to the hardware. The collar on the right was the second. From making it, I learned about fabric thickness and reinforcement.

One thing I learned concerned the elastic being wider than the openings on the clasp, which I knew. What I didn’t know, though, was that the result would be unacceptably ugly. That made me said. The exposed elastic was bumming me out a bit, too. And the stitching to hold the velcro? Oh, dear.

The collar in the middle is the third one I made. It’s simpler, using a buckle adjuster instead of the spiffy clasp. Surprisingly, this solved several of the problems of the first two prototypes, including the ugliness of velcro and its stitching, and the uneven width of the belt necessitated by the smaller opening of the side-release clips.

And I made a few decisions about finishing, as well.

That’s a lot of words to say that:

  • Mistakes provide important lessons
  • The simplest solution often gives the most polished results
  • Time and materials sacrificed for prototypes aren’t actually a waste

Writing that first draft can be just as ugly and frustrating as prototyping cat collars. Ish! And it’s easy to get discouraged when you work so hard to move something from the brain into the physical world, and it turns out looking like something the dog wouldn’t eat.

But if you sift through the wreckage, I guarantee you’ll have learned something—about your story, about your craft, about yourself. And that will be time well spent. 

Any sort of craft is a long game—a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t sweat the mistakes, and don’t give up because the first results are imperfect. The first version of anything isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s not for public consumption–it’s for you, the artist, and only you.

And that makes it special.

Keep going. Don’t give up. You’ll get there.

Want to see progress in action? Check out my first novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, and see how far Ira has come in his recent follow-up short, Dust to Dust.

Published by jfaraday

Jess Faraday is an award-winning author of historical suspense.

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