Coffee for WriMos: Day Six

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

November 8, 2014

Your draft is an ugly baby.

Face it–writing is messy and that first attempt to communicate the dazzling story in your head is not the same as what ends up on the page. Just like not all babies are born looking like a Disney Princess, your first draft is not going to read like Louis L’Amour or Stephen King. Forget being named the next Shakespeare at the end of November.

Ugly babies and first drafts grow up, and like the duckling that became a swan, your first-draft will become a second, third, fourth, fifth or whatever it takes to reach beauty. Think of edits as growing pains. It’s worth the effort in the end. But first you have to have a baby. You need that first draft.

So the point is, don’t fret over your ugly baby. Don’t drag people to the crib and ask them to tell you how gorgeous it is. Expect a dismayed look or two. After all, it doesn’t make you love your baby less. It’s your baby. Give it tender loving care to grow and mature. Today, write and ignore any negative feedback. Don’t ever let that stop you. This is just a phase.

Thought for Day Six:

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
~Lawrence Block, June 1981

Except don’t tear it up just because it’s an ugly baby. Give it time to grow. Go and write some more. This month is about the writing, not winning a beauty contest.

Day Six: 1,897 words

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

Wild Bill Hickok-McCanles Affair of Rock Creek, NE 1861

“…our honest opinion is that the real facts never will be known.”

~ F.J. Elliot to George Hansen Nov. 26, 1938


“Mrs. De Vald! I know you are in there!”

Sarah ignored the rapping and the yelling. She sat down in the old rocker her brother had let her take from the Robbins Hotel. The seat needed re-thatching and despite her stiff knuckles she managed enough weaves to seat herself comfortably. A handy skill to know, not that she ever used it much, but one that James McCanles taught her long ago so that she could thatch seats for him. It was their fair exchange so that Sarah hadn’t felt like a charity case when he or one of the other McCanleses brought her food to this tiny cabin in the woods. Shunned.

“Mrs. De Vald. I am he who has corresponded so diligently with you. Just a few questions is all I ask.”

In ignoring the man from New York City, she let her mind drift. Rock Creek gurgling in summer, insects buzzing like fairies alive in the tall grass. The pounding hooves of an approaching express rider, the exchange of the mochilla, the entrance of a swift moving stage or the choking dust of lumbering wagon trains. So different from the quiet pines and endless mountains of her youth.

“Mrs. De Vald. I know you were there.”

Sarah stiffened. Certainly this man couldn’t read her mind. Her hands gripped the scarred arm rests. Walnut oil would polish them up, but she had none. She looked around the small room. A broom was needed. In her mind she remembered living here, just her and baby Martha Allice. She made up stories every night. She had no rocking chair then. She used to pace, not understanding why her baby girl fussed so much. Colicky the doctor said. This room was much cleaner back then, back when she had kindling and quilts. Now there was hardly a sapling to be found in the area with the massive lumbering that made her hometown unrecognizable. That it was a town was an amazement. When she lived here it was her father’s mill and store. Neighbors had houses within walking distance, but the forest made it seem more private. Now she could see all the way down the stump-littered hill to the town they called Shulls Mill. Her father’s mill washed away in a flood in 1861 and was never rebuilt. It was 1925 and the families of her brothers now ran the Robbins Hotel in the shadow of the cotton mill and the bald slopes. It looked like a wasteland. It was never a place she wanted to return. She closed her eyes and could feel the warm Nebraska sun on her cheeks. This room was so cold.

No shouts, just continuous rapping as if a woodpecker was attacking the door. It was thin, not like the thick doors Cob once hewn for the ranches he built out west.

“Please, Mrs. De Vald. I have a deadline with my publisher…please?”

Sarah opened the door a crack. The man looked startled, but quickly recovered his dignity. His sloping forehead was topped with a mound of gray-streaked brown hair and was cropped closely behind each ear. Sarah supposed it was a city-man’s style. It did look dignified but she couldn’t imagine Cob wearing his hair like that. Or maybe. It was the kind of thing he’d do, trying to look important. “Be about your business quickly.”

“You are Sarah Shull De Vald?”

“Yes. I am her.”

“How old are you, Mrs. De Vald?”



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  1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Great advice Charli. The time to listen to negative feed back is certainly much later in the process.

    • Charli Mills

      Too early, it can be confusing to a writer. I know that I have to “write thru” some of those things I’m not sure about and come back later.

  2. anastasiabetts

    I LOVE IT!!! I can’t wait to read more!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you! That’s encouraging! 🙂

  3. TanGental

    Your children are beautiful, silly women. Everyone knows babies are beautiful.. underneath. Timely reminder as ever. Back to Harry I go…surrounded by death and destruction… tee hee.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! I’m entering that place where the knitting has become tangled. We can’t unknit our children, but we can rewrite!

  4. Let's CUT the Crap!

    I am enjoying the read. It is no ugly baby.

    • Charli Mills

      From my perspective–it doesn’t match up and causes me angst…but I have to plow through. Thank you for thinking my baby isn’t ugly!

      • Let's CUT the Crap!

        I’ve seen u.g.l.y. and this is nothing like it.

      • Charli Mills

        You can be my draft’s special Auntie! <3 Thank you!

  5. Sarah Brentyn

    😀 I LOVE that episode. I’m still laughing. Such a great analogy. My brilliance was shining with “First Drafts: Embrace the Crap”. Eh. I like your ugly baby better.

    De Vald. I am so sorry but I have missed something. Or I’m flaking out this morning. I just can’t wait for all these puzzle pieces to click into a fully-formed picture. (A non-ugly one.)

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sarah!
      Yeah, De Vald…you can’t really understand right now. Or Nancy Jane…that’s why it’s such a struggle. It’s not going to make sense but hopefully it comes together and I figure out the best way to make it make sense. Does that make sense?

      Okay, I hear my ugly baby crying…gotta go! 🙂

  6. Annecdotist

    Well said, Charli. Mine is not only ugly but I suspect it’s come out without all its bits properly developed. Yours seems to be chugging along rather well, however.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, Anne I’m dying laughing! Yep. You understand; bits not developed! I’m just going to put stuff out there until it becomes clearer than mud.


    Well, I didn’t see that coming! I did wonder why it was 1925 when it had been 1860’s previously … good work indeed 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      No Merlin time-hopping, here, just old-fashioned aging! 😀 Pretty amazing that Sarah Shull lived to be 98 when neither Cob nor Hickok lived to be 40.

  8. Sherri

    I love your thoughts for the day…no ugly here Charli but thanks for the encouragement to write, write and write…and give it time to grow later if not now 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Raise your draft with love!

      • Sherri


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