Two weeks ago, I finished a second draft of a novel.
But first, to be honest? It’s really more like the twentieth draft. I started writing in 2010 and the thing ballooned from its natural setting of Silly Fluffy Thing I’m Messing Around With into this crazy godzilla of an Actual Book, so I can’t say with any clarity when one draft morphed into another. Clearly these mystical “drafts” are only for professional published writers.
In any case, I gathered it all together, called it a first draft and sent it to a few friends for beta reading. They said very nice things, as friends are wont to do. They also told me which parts of the story they disliked, which parts they found boring, and which parts made no sense whatsoever. After I finished pissying around the apartment (three weeks later) I sat down and started the second draft.
I should probably send it out to more kind readers, to see if I’ve fixed the first/twentieth-draft problems, or if I’ve created new problems. But I’m finding I feel even more insecure about this second draft, something I didn’t think was possible. At least with that one I could pretend that oh, I banged that out so fast, of course there are problems. But with this version, I have responsibilities. The mysterious climactic event in chapter 28 that happens without any sensible or at least satisfying explanation? Best get one in there. That character who lives? Think about killing her. That character who dies? Think about letting him live. Drinking booze in space? Really, Norm? Really? And on, and on, and on. In essence, do away all the melodrama and purple prose without losing any of the goodness my readers mentioned.
The cleanup was pretty intense and I didn’t want to look at it when I finished; I was worried – I still am worried, in fact, that if I did a final read-through at the moment, I’d skim and skip and sicken on the familiar characters, scenes, words. So I’m letting it sit a few days more.
In the meantime I’m working on a short story, which brings me around to the whole motivation theme. For the first time in my spare-time writing life, I’m shoving this story forward when my brain doesn’t want to write, something I’m ashamed to say happens so often. Even, embarrassingly enough, in the morning time allotment I’ve specifically and painstakingly created for Greate Actes of Writinge. But I seem to be finding some way to dig in, plow it forward.
One thing that’s definitely helped is hearing other writers, generally the successful ones who can take some downtime or catch some extra funds giving seminars, doing podcasts, or whatever; it’s helped me to hear them promote bad writing. From that point of view, it’s all about getting the story down. It can be the shittiest, simplest drivel as long as it gets the bones of the story locked into that page, for you to play with until it’s transformed into…hell, I don’t know. A stuffed roast chicken? My metaphor’s getting a little gristly.
But it works. I still read those Ask Metafilter threads where someone’s saying I need to know how to buckle down and how do you make yourself accomplish things and I needs me some willpower, stat, HALP? And people try to answer with something other than you just do it. It’s hard to come up with anything beyond that.
Tig Notaro telling a story I’ve liked since I heard a version of it on This American Life: