It’s been a little over a week since I started work on the second draft of my new novel Trollbooth. Last week, I promised to keep a journal of the process of shaping this book into something that’s entertaining and readable. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past seven days:
First, I have to silence my inner editor. I know it sounds crazy, but if you take a look at my writing process, I’m at the stage where I’m translating my handwriting into the computer. This means it’s boring work, for the most part, and when I’m already getting up at 4 a.m. to write, that’s hard. The key to getting through this, just like any other less-than-stellar (yet necessary) task in life is to get it done as quickly as possible. Therefore, I’ve been teaching myself not to worry.
That’s hard, especially at the beginning of a book. For one thing, I didn’t know Trollbooth was a novel until I was 50 pages in with no end in sight. For another – and I think this is true with most authors – the first few days of writing with a project are very uncertain times. I didn’t yet have the rhythm of the language, the command of tone, or even a clear, specific sense of the sequence of events. In the first draft, I just write to get it all out there, and now, as I force myself to just type what I see like a secretary, I’m noticing every little bit of imperfection, ugliness, and/or error along the way.
I want to halt when I see those things. They offend me, even if I’m responsible for them in the first place. I want to stop and restructure, or add detail, or take a passage I know doesn’t have relevance to where the story eventually leads, and fix those things. They bother me the way a toddler leaning way over a staircase would bother me (and I know all about that, too!). The thing is, the second draft is not the place to fix those things. The second draft is handwriting-to-computer. Nothing more, and the reason is simple: there’s too much to fix. I could stop typing and change things, start again, realize that I changed something that affects other things back 10 pages, and get myself caught in a scenario where I’m doing the grunt-work typing very, very piecemeal over a period of months rather than weeks. Since the second draft is a necessary evil to me, boring as hell, I’d rather get it over with the way I shovel dog crap in my yard. All at once, do it and get it over with. I’ve tried other ways in more variations than I can remember, and none of them do any good for my creative self, or my overall mood. This is the only way.
But still…I have to shut up that editor in my skull, and that’s a bitch.
I spent the majority of the week cracking the whip upon myself. I typed and turned pages and typed some more. I stopped here and there for sips of coffee, but other than that I wouldn’t let myself fix even a typo. I’m pleased to say that I’ve improved my discipline day-over-day in this regard. I still change things here and there, and when I do I’m going with my gut feeling that I must do it, but if it takes more than a few seconds, I’m getting ahead of myself and will leave it for the next draft. Even if this last line sounds contrary to everything I’ve been saying, it’s still true; art is about the when, the what, the how, and the who. Why can go fuck itself. That’s the process of creating art.
My original plan was to finish this second draft by the end of this week. A cold forced more rest on me, since I have to be dad, husband, and maintain the day-job before being a novelist. Some facts of life have no middle ground, and I know better than to push too hard. I’m set on doing as much as I can this second week, and keeping myself aligned with the draft-by-draft goals I’ve set for myself. It’ll keep me happy and working, and since I want this story to be awesome, that’s the best thing I can do.