On finishing first drafts


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I wrote this post two weeks after finishing my first draft Adamantine, but am just now getting around to posting it.

I finished the first draft of Adamantine January 6, 2018. It's the second time in my adult life I've completed a draft of a novel.

And this time around I feel like I have some idea of what to do next.

These two weeks since I've been reading through the draft, making notes, creating spreadsheets, summarizing scenes, identifying scenes that don't "work," coming up with a list of scenes that need to be added, looking for world-building details that need to be fleshed out, locating inconsistencies, etc.

And yesterday with no small amount of dread, I began the second draft.

This is uncharted territory for me. The first draft of my NaNoWriMo project seven years ago was ignored soon after finishing it. Once in awhile I would pick it up again and make some changes, rework some scenes, but mostly I stared at it and felt lost -- utterly, hopelessly lost. I knew it fell apart at the end. I knew there were scenes that made no sense, where I lost character motivation, where they were doing stuff just because I needed to have them do stuff, but I didn't know how to fix it. So I stuck it in a figurative drawer and forgot about it.

But with this book, Adamantine, the first in a series of at least three books, I feel completely different here at the end. I have a plan. I've been learning so much through the Story Grid podcast and website that I feel like I've gotten to a whole new level as a writer just in the course of writing the last half of my book.

But the work is only beginning.

It's amazing to look at something that's "finished," a draft, and see ahead of you just as much work as you poured into that draft. I always assumed that subsequent drafts meant less work - a matter of spit and polish. The real work was done, now to round off the edges, blow off the sawdust, and apply the finish. But no.

It's more like the first draft is cutting out all the materials. The second draft is putting those materials together. Then subsequent drafts are the equivalent of filling in the holes with wood filler, sanding, staining, until you've got something that looks good and can hold weight. But all the steps are just as much work as the one before. Cutting out the materials - selecting, measuring, marking, sawing - is not less work than assembling. Assembling is as difficult as sanding. It's not that the process gets easier, it's just that it's a little closer to completion with each one.

And there's joy in the whole process, seeing the creation take shape into more than I thought it would be at the beginning. The nascent idea grows into far more than I could have imagined when I set down the first words. And the mystery of that is not lost on me, how the author and his intent has very little to do with the story that he bears into being. I am looking forward to seeing what the book will look like when I metaphorically set down the pen for the last time.


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