Ava DuVernay at the premiere of Queen Sugar last night. The show begins on OWN September 6 and 7; back in July, Kathleen wrote about making this series appointment television. Queen Sugar is about three siblings who reunite to manage their father’s sugar cane farm, adapted by Ava from a book by Natalie Baszile. Oprah is the executive producer. And in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, both talk about the process of putting Queen Sugar together, starting with Ava’s three drafts. That’s how many drafts it took before Oprah gave her blessing.
DuVernay: The first time I pounded it out, adapted the book, and gave it to her very proudly. And she said, “Oh, I thought it was going to be more than this.” That’s what she said. I thought, “Yeah, okay, I’m going back and adding something.” Second one, I added people doing voodoo, murders, stabbing, a frickin’ hurricane. I added a lot. What does she want?
Winfrey: I’m not down with the voodoo.
DuVernay: She was like, “Whaaat?” In true Oprah fashion, she said, “What do you want to say? This is a show that will be on every week in people’s homes.” I drilled into that. And I told her, “This is the last one I will do. And I’m going to put in what I want to say, and if it’s not it, then I don’t know.” And that was the pilot.
The point of this story is that Oprah mentored Ava to find the voice of the story that needed to be told. My takeaway from the story, because I try to write, is that writing f-cking sucks. There is nothing like the relief of finishing the first draft. As Ava describes in her situation, she was proud of it. But the first draft is never, ever the one. And there’s nothing like the stress of getting that first draft back and knowing it needs to be fixed. And, worse, knowing it’ll have to be fixed again. And again. This is, probably, boring pretentious writer talk. But the reason I’m doing it here is because I know many of you write and I want to share with you something Duana taught me, which someone else taught her, and it’s a lesson I come back to all the time, and will likely keep coming back to forever:
You can’t fix nothing.
The first draft is always sh-t. Everyone’s first draft is sh-t. Even Harper Lee! But you can work with sh-t. You can always improve sh-t. You can’t, however, improve what’s not there.
Click here to read more of the interview with Oprah and Ava DuVernay in EW.