Wednesday, 9 January 2013

On First Drafts, and Other Terrible Things

I've always wanted to be a First Draft Genius. You know: one of those magical people who somehow manage to turn out a first draft that's almost near to perfect. One of those lucky bastards who doesn't have to sweat and cry and freak out about the work involved in creating a first draft, only to then have that first draft in front of them and realize: there's still so much work to do. Le sigh. 

Wouldn't that just be great?
A dismal piece of a dismal first draft. Sigh.

I know what you're thinking. You're reading this and saying, but those people aren't magical! THEY ARE MYTHICAL! THEY DO NOT EXIST, LEDUC! 

Except that they do, kind of. Arundhati Roy once said that she only ever revised around four pages of THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS. (Except that I can't find the reference for this now. So maybe it too is mythical, and I am working myself into a tizzy all over nothing. Which is very likely.) And even though the Internet abounds with words about rewriting, somehow I still think, in my funny little brain, that one day it will be possible to Get it Right The First Time.

(Perhaps I should have titled this post "Ridiculous Neuroses, and Other Such Things".)

So I finished the first draft of my new novel at the end of last year. Four glorious days away from the Real Job. It felt like a true vacation. All I did was wake up, make tea, sit in front of my computer, and write. I hammered out plenty of words the first day, re-organized and shifted paragraphs and chapters and whatnot the next, and then went back over everything again on Day Three, smoothing out and cutting and being ruthless. (This, in many ways, is my favourite part of being a writer -- that moment when you see a sentence that you once loved and realize: no. That needs to go. And you cut, and away it goes, and for the briefest hint of an instant your soul is clear and shiny and free! And then you move on to the next sentence, and do it all over again ...)

Day Four held more writing, more shifting around, and by the end of that evening I had a clear shape and chapters that flowed easily from one to the next. Structure. What had been a mess three days before suddenly all made sense. What a lovely feeling! How neat (again and again -- this part of the process never ceases to surprise me) to look at two years' worth of accumulated work and suddenly see how it all flows together. How fascinating to see how the seeds of a scene or thought, planted months and months ago, suddenly look perfect when nestled right at the beginning of this chapter, or the next.

But of course it's far from perfect. Of course I left it alone for a little while, and then went back to it yesterday evening and started to panic. There's so much more to do, I thought. How in heaven's name did I think this could possibly be ready? HOW DID I EVEN THINK I COULD WRITE ANOTHER NOVEL??

If you've stuck with me online for the last three years or so, you'll know how all of this goes. Of course I'll tell myself the same kinds of things over and over to beat back the panic. Don't all writers revise? That webpage that you cited just a few paragraphs above, Amanda -- does it not, in fact, talk about how the revision process can in some places be even more important than creation? Blah blah blah? Didn't MIRACLES require a full year of edits before it was ready to submit? 

Etc., etc.

Ah, well. Having another MS under one's belt is no small thing, horridly imperfect or no.And in the meantime, the months tick away to that lovely little day when MIRACLES gets released into the world. That day when I'll be able to say see? This was a first draft, once upon a time. Now it has a cover and a publisher and everything. Perhaps things are not all bad. 

Day by day, inch by inch. Sentence by sentence. We all get there, eventually. 

1 comment:

  1. I remember David Leach talking about writing and how writing is not a one-pronged activity. It requires other things to make it complete, like reading. It also requires rewriting. True writing involves rewriting. I guess there's an exception to every rule, like Roy, but for the majority of good writing, revision is what makes it great.

    Also perhaps Roy meant revisions in the editing-with-editor stage of things. I can't imagine writing an entire novel and only going back to four pages to make changes. I don't believe it.