Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Dog Days of the First Draft

They say the most important part of writing is to finish something.

That's it.

Edits? Critiques? Rewrites? Yes, that is all very important too, most definitely, but without actually finishing something, then what's the point, right? In the early stages, you have to keep that forward momentum going. You have to ignore the glaring faults. You have to ignore the inconsistencies. You have to ignore all those nagging doubts nipping at your heels like a pack of wolves looking to bring you down.

You have to finish. At least, that's what they say...

But it's not always that easy, you know?

No. In fact, it's really hard. Most people won't do it. Most people can't do it, because it's hard. It's hard to keep going when you know there are problems and there's no end in sight and it all feels just... terrible. 

Plot problems. Pacing problems. Inconsistent details. Unecessary characters. Things to add. Things to subtract. Unclear direction. Not enough description. Too much description. Questions of value and worth. Concerns about marketability. You should never write toward the market, but that doesn't mean you should be wasting your time on a dud project, right? And how do you know if it's a dud project or not? Questions, comments and concerns. It pokes at you. It slows you down and it can stop you cold. It threatens to take you out at the knees.

That's where I am right now, the middle of nowhere with a long way to go.

I'm working on my second book, so I've kind of touched on these ideas before. 

I've talked about starting over. I've talked about motivation. I am a little over halfway through the first draft now (at least, that's what my general plotting tells me), which means I am smack dab in the doldrums, slogging through a narrative quagmire as I try to bridge one part to the next, plagued with motivation and world detail questions, blah, blah, blah... right? It's maddening, but you have to ignore it and keep on keeping on, because as soon as you start editing and re-editing, and then editing some more, as soon as you start spinning your wheels, staring at that blank page and worrying about what comes next, as soon as you start fretting over value...

You're sunk.

You have to finish. I mean, really, what other choice do you have? Quit writing? No, you have to remember that it's supposed to be like this. After all, what's the common addendum to the Finish Something Rule:

But that's the sticking point, right?

I may know that I can come back, that I can fix it all later, but sometimes it is hard to keep that in mind. At times I feel like that room in my head filled with all the junk and scrap and bits and pieces that I drag out and hammer into the shape of my stories is pitch black and I am just stumbling around in there hoping to find my way. And sometimes it feels like that's not going to happen, that I'm just stumbling around in the dark. Lost. That's scary. It threatens the whole project.

I know my first book was a struggle. I know that. Thinking back on it now, it seems like it just kind of happened. One day: Poof! Book. Like I just wrote a few chapters, I planned ahead a bit, maybe changed my mind here and there, wrote a bit more when some stuff occurred to me and then it was done. Boom.

First draft finished, easy-breezy, lemon-squeezey!

That's a lie, of course, a recollection colored by fear and doubt and probably the failings of an aging mind, but still... When you're in the middle of it all, and that second draft is so far away, it's hard to remember that the first draft is an important tool. That it's just a frame work, a map to something better. It's hard to remember that the First Draft is just that, a First Draft, one of many and that it's not done.

And honestly, barreling ahead? That can often be the fun part. What happens next? It could be anything. It could be inspiring. It could be new and brilliant and twisty and awesome. It could change everything. What happens next? It could be amazing, yeah, but that fear and doubt reminds you that it could also be terrible.

But that's the rub, right? What happens next? To find out, you have to keep going. You have to finish, even if it might get ugly.

Keep writing,


Mark Teats said...

Hang in there, Jon.
I can relate too well.
You had a lot of great images in this post. The Sisyphus sign seems about right to represent us writer types rolling that writing/editing boulder up the hill.
But keep plugging away. It'll all be worth it in the long run.

Jon said...

Thanks, Mark!

Shawn Enderlin said...

For what it's worth, what you have written so far is stylistically is as clean and crisp as a summer lemonade. Enviously so.

But all that other stuff? Plot and whatnot? That's gonna take some work.

Think of it this way, it has to be easier the second time, right?


Lisa said...

Great post, Jon.
Hey, is that Mark in the back row of the Hockey team? Brown leather jacket?

Jon said...

Yes. Yes, I believe it is.