For the last 68 days I’ve written a minimum of 1,000 words per day.
The second draft needed to be a major revision, but I wasn’t making much progress in the endlessly-revisable sandbox of Microsoft Word. To free myself of perfectionism, I put pen to paper. I began writing page one and kept going until I completed the last chapter on Sunday.
I still need to type up about a month of journal pages, fill in a few gaps, cut a few things, and reorganize, but the end is in sight.
I’m pleased to report that the second draft is about half done. As a marker of this milestone, I share with you a synopsis (subject to change, as always) of the sort that might appear on the back of a book:
“A man can get fixated on a thing far beyond its value or the bounds of reason,” so begins Kurt’s narrative.
Kurt has a job. No one does any work, only the occasional pretend call to a nonexistent customer and the logging of a fictional sale. But it pays the bills, and he’s lucky to have it. Meanwhile he has discovered a letter trapped in a used paperback. The idea of delivering it to its intended recipient, Danielle, feels to him like a heroic act. But the only link he has to her is the man who denies being named Rudolph, a man known to each of his associates by a different name. The man is a slippery thing to hold, and the tighter Kurt grasps, the more things slip. And when his idle coworkers become manpower in his quest, things become even less sane.
Credit and thanks goes to Ross for helping identify the rough spots in the draft of this.
My process for the first draft, if you remember, was designed to suppress my perfectionist tendencies. But when I finished that draft in November and began the second (without those safeguards) the beast of perfectionism reared its head. I revised and rewrote and revised the first chapter until just short of my own premature death, and it was exhilarating! But the euphoria ended with the second chapter.
What did wonders for a week had soon fizzled out, and perfectionism became paralysis. Trapped by a single problematic idea with no clear answer, I did nothing. The holidays came and went. January and February zipped by. A long period of agonizing about my inactivity was followed by an even longer period of not thinking about it at all.
Then in March one morning, without any prelude of intent, I awoke with an idea for the novel and renewed purpose. Since then I’ve worked steadily, mostly firming up the foundational elements of the story, which is why you haven’t noticed much movement on the old thermometer over there. It’s just not the kind of progress the old progress meter is good at measuring (it has its blind spots), but progress has been made. I swear.
That foundational business behind me, along with a certain redesigning of my second draft processes, I’ve begun what will surely be a highly productive cycle. Expect noticeable progress in the coming weeks. The kind the progress bar will show.
At first, when the germ of my story was a husband who discovers his late wife’s secret diary, the novel was called generically The Diary. But that plot line felt like too much melodrama (and what do I know about husbands?), so I replaced the husband with a hapless thirty-something single and the diary with a love letter trapped unread in a book for many months; the novel became The Letter. Of course later I added the diary back in to complement the letter, and I called the thing The Letter/The Diary
This arrangement lasted me all of the first draft and into the beginning of the second draft, until this morning I decided to remove the letter altogether (what do I know about love letters trapped unread in books for many months?) but keep the diary, at which point the novel became the cumbersome formulation The Letter/The Diary.
That’s when I remembered the list of halfway-decent titles I had worked up a while ago (none of which really seemed quite right for the final title but one of which could certainly serve temporarily). I took the best one and gave the novel the working title The Long and Short of It. I’m sure that’ll change.
The first draft, started at the end of May, is complete. I only got six or seven citations for driving too slow in a public lane.
My gaze turns towards what’s next, and the weight of the decision-making, persistence and general fortitude required for the second draft dawns on me.
Procrastination begins now.
First draft is half done in relation to my plot outline. I only got one speeding ticket and two warnings.
Work on the first draft has begun and continues apace. Against the technique of my last novel, where in succession I refined and refined and refined each chapter to just shy of perfection, going at about a crawl, the idea with this one is to get the whole draft onto paper as fast as possible, outrunning my internal editor and critic (chasing behind with their red pen and big black marker and paper-crumpling hands and ridicule-spouting mouths, gaining ground and losing ground and then finding a shortcut, but never actually catching up). Speed is the watchword. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It really shouldn’t be perfect. If it’s perfect then I’m not going fast enough.
Once the draft is on paper I’ll have nowhere to run. Those pesky two will be on me with all kinds of insults and corrections and notes on grammar and general abuse, but they’ll have a good sense of the whole of the story so it won’t be idle criticism. I’ll put them to work on what needs changing on a high level with their tools of destruction. They’ll hit the big areas first—character problems, arc problems, chapter problems. With the bigger problems thoroughly yelled at they’ll move onto less big ones and even less big ones and then smaller ones and then the ones smaller than the smaller ones and lastly the fine detail of the sentences.
Then, finally, at last, after all that refining and refining, I’ll finally have my draft to a point where those pesky two will insinuate that I might as well toss the whole thing into the bonfire.