Monday, January 27, 2014

The First Draft

There are various ways of attacking this thing called a first draft.

One way is to go at it willy-nilly.  Take no prisoners!   A forced march, to the very end!  And then, when either Shackleton has set out in his little boat to find help, or Mao Tse Tung is paddling downriver on his back, you will find that you have a first draft.

And so, you stop.  You look back.  You go to the hardware store.  You buy a machete. You go at the thing front to back, whack!, whack!, whack!  You take no prisoners.  You  keep going, a forced march, right to the end.

At that point, you invest in some serious authorial software with names like [fill in the blank] and [fill in the blank, Bob].  This allows you to sort out the shards in alphabetical order and append them to card-like electronic tiles. Then you can re-arrange them all you want.  You can play mahjong or solitaire.

From what I have this morning read, there are outlining novelists and organic novelists.

Because I do not have an outline, I assume that I am an organic novelist.  The subliminal outline will be revealed to all--including me--in the fullness of time and through the process of keyboarding, which, you may remember used to be typing.

I tried to write a long made-up story (a.k.a., novel) once before, without benefit of an outline.  No GPS.  No compass. Not the remotest familiarity with the native language.  Just fast fingers, keyboarding like the wind, straight into the very heart of darkness.  From which no second draft ever emerged.

The truth is, on that project, I didn't really have a story.  All I had was one or two characters that I found personally compelling for some reason that I could not articulate, and a vaguely ghost-y sense of  imminent peril.

But that was not enough.

This time, it will be different.

I have a character who I can actually talk to.  Every detail of her story sparks my imagination and smacks of destiny to me.

Also, as of today, I have a support team--a pit crew, as it were.  When I run out of gas, blow out a tire, or crash into a wall--they will be there to sort me out with all haste and send me on my way.

But still, there are hazards.

1.  Imagine that your novel is a huge success.  It makes you rich and famous.  So rich and famous, in fact, that you can afford to build a heated and covered arena in your back yard.  You can buy the other five acres adjacent to your four.  You can keep apartments in Paris in New York.

Now, try to focus your attention back on your manuscript.  You can't do it, can you?

2. Forget about the interesting parts of your story.  Spend inordinate amounts of time fiddling with the insignificant parts.  Wordsmith it like a deranged poet with OCD.  If that sentence resists your contortions, don't give up!  Spend an hour on it at least, if you have to!

Then try to remember what motivated you to write this story in the first place.  You can't remember, can you?

3. Hire an ex-felon on Craigslist to tile a kitchen floor that you know for a fact is possessed by the one hundred-year-old poltergeist of a Scandinavian dairy farmer.  Oh, and keep your kid home from school for two days because his skin will curdle in the cold from twenty seconds' exposure.

Now try to give language to that brilliant insight you had the other night.  You can't do it, can you?  F.Scott Fitzgerald could.  Remember that footage of him at the party, everybody's gaily running around jumping into fountains, and there's Scott, sitting on a stump or something, hunched over his manuscript, oblivious to the world, scratching away at it with his outrageously poor spelling.


I'm sure there are other hazards, but these are the first three that I ran into today.

The floor guys are gone, but the kid is still here.  I tried.  Tomorrow, I try again.

As that potent character, Scarlet O'hara, once said, "Tomorrow is another day!"

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