Back to the novel, back to bliss (kinda sorta)


“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

–Gene Fowler

Well, not quite. If, as I do, you do most of your writing on a computer screen rather than a sheet of paper, you have to stare at some other blank thing while waiting for those drops of blood to form. But the essential process is the same: You sit, you wait, you feel the prickle of something wet and salty coalescing on your brow, and you hope to Goddess it’s only sweat and not blood.

Or, if you’re lucky, you already have your basic ideas tentatively mapped out on a scratchpad, and only have to sit down and get back to fleshing ’em out, as I did today to the tune of over a thousand words. A thousand words better than the first thousand I wrote in that lost first draft–or “first drift”, as I prefer to call it, since that’s what it was. It wandered off course a lot. Sometimes it stalled in the doldrums, and I spent countless pages trying to find something to say again that would get my little craft back into the great current. I was often unsure as to whether to steer it into the Gulf Stream or the Benguela.

This time I know where I want it to go, or at least I’m pretty sure I know better. I’m not yet quite at the point of making like Lawrence of Arabia, who exulted when the first draft of Seven Pillars of Wisdom went missing: “I’ve lost the damned thing!”

But I’m getting close. This first draft is definitely easier. I got out my thousand words in under an hour (and no, writing for eight hours a day at this pace would not result in eight thousand words; it would result in me swiftly losing my mind. Which I need, thankyouverymuch.)

And while the prose is much more unadorned than it was the first time, it’s also clearer and cleaner, and also considerably more compressed–which is always better for a novel, because any damned idiot can write purple prose that says nothing for several pages at a stretch. It takes a real Albert Camus, or a Hemingway, to pack a lot into what looks like few words. (I don’t know if I’m at the level of them yet, either, but I know I’m closer to it than I was this time last time ’round.)

So this is what you do when you’ve lost the damned thing: You take time to regroup, rethink, and then…re-write.

And once you get started, you feel stronger, and you rejoice, too. Because this is what you’re good at, and you know it’s what you’re meant to do.

And then, feeling only a little bit paranoid, you’ll save the whole thing to a recently purchased flash drive, and hope that the brand-new Time Machine your whole pute is backed up on will also do its duty without fail, and preserve a second backup in the event that this pute, too, should cack out.

And in the meantime, you strive to have confidence that this second first draft will truly be better than the first.

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