Hello, First Draft, My Old Friend

tolstoyninth_draftSo, First Draft, we meet again. I just finished your brother a few weeks ago and stuck him in a (virtual) drawer. Don’t worry. You’re definitely meeting the same fate. Oh, stop screaming. Doesn’t the certainty of what’s going to happen reassure you? No? Good. We’ll revisit this, later. It’s important.

The good news, if you insist on seeing imprisonment as a bad thing, is that in a few months I’ll open the file you’ve been locked in and we’ll work together again. Why a few months? Because you suck. I’m sorry. There was no delicate way to phrase that. You aren’t very good. None of your siblings were either. You’re all bare bones and jutting emotions and a few exquisite scenes I’ll end up cutting because frankly they’re distracting and don’t match the rest of the story.

More good news! I’m going to fix you up, the next time we meet, after I spring you from what you insist on calling prison. Bit melodramatic aren’t we? Again, my fault. I inserted a little too much angst into you. That’ll come out in editing. What’s editing? It’s like surgery. I’m going to get inside you and rip out all the parts that don’t make sense, or are excessive, or mistakes. Yes, you contain mistakes. Don’t despair. We all do.

You’re crying again. Was it the surgery analogy? It won’t hurt. Or, if it does, it’s going to hurt me too. It takes a lot of time and mental energy to transform you into something publishable. What’s that? Oh, yes. That’s the aim. Someday you’ll be sold on a bookshelf alongside other books. No, really. Might even get to rub shoulder with Roxane Gay’s latest work, given my last name’s proximity to hers.

Why not now? Oh, honey. You’re not ready. Remember the editing? Well, that’s going to happen more than once. More like six or seven times. By the end of this process you’re hardly going to look like you do now. You’ll lose weight, about twenty percent, and you’ll hardly miss it. The central story will remain the same, probably. It’s been known to change, entirely. I think we might have a lock on your title.* And the main characters, definitely, they’re staying. Anyone who’s secondary though? Don’t get attached. Tertiary? Really, just look at ‘em out the side of your eye because they can be gone in a blink.

Now you’re sad again. Look, it’s just how I work. If I were a writer who plotted, who meticulously made notes and mapped out the action and character arcs, this might be different. I’m not. I’ve tried. Even with an outline in hand, I go wandering off, finding new scenes to write. You know how you insisted knowing you were going to end up imprisoned didn’t make you feel better? Turns out knowing how my book ends doesn’t make me feel better. Twinsies! Told you that point would come back.

We’ve got another six weeks (at least) before you’re headed for that drawer. This is early days. We’re still world building here. I have almost no idea what I’m doing. That’s why you’ve got those crazy chapter endings, lots of yellowed XXXs where I’ll fill in unknown information, and three characters named Linda. But it’ll get better. Within a year you’re going to go from a flabby, disorganized mess to a toned, tight and interesting manuscript!

What’s that? What’s copyediting? We can talk about that later. Much later. For now let’s write chapter sixteen. And let’s try our best not to introduce a fourth Linda. When it feels especially awful, just close your eyes and chant, “Next to Roxane Gay.”

* I’ve never had a title survive the publishing process.


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