Way back, before I started all this, I had ideas aplenty but never could get far when trying to write them down. It’s a mighty frustrating place to be. You get the feeling that you’re chock full of the good stuff, that you need to get it out of you and into the world, and yet when you do you find, to your amazement, you are quite mute.
I’m quite convinced this is the biggest obstacle to so many who try to write. In some quote I cannot seem to find online, Hunter S. Thompson once described it as a fear of the infinity in a blank page, pure and uninterested in every other thing you may have written. All the worse, then, if you’ve not. Starting is a nightmare. It’s white page after white page, all the way down. You might have thought you had a solid idea, but when actually sitting there, right at the face of the beginning of your work, well, you’ll have doubts, all right.
You’ve got to earn your chops.
There’s a great cycle to life and art and creativity. In a certain vital sense, some things really are born again every single day. We all start at the beginning so many times throughout our lives we’re quite oblivious to the pattern. Sure, there’s a difference between making art and brushing your teeth, but both of them work better once you’ve learned. And both of them need done tomorrow, no matter what you do today.
For someone who hasn’t published any one thing I can point to, quite yet, I’ve written a fair old lot of words. Most of them suck. Most of everything sucks. And, the cause behind the problem, you can never quite tell which ones, not when they’re still up close. My memory is strong, and I’m blinded by the vision still alive and well that I was trying to write, the experience of writing rather than what I actually did. You’re sold, always sold, on what you’ve just made. Yet that is the way to crap out a dull old turd. To get above the rubbish, you’ve got to kill the things you’ve made. They’ll only get better when you try.
That’s why I’m relieved to take a little summer break from Alpha. I kicked it off pretty good back in January, and went at just about the clip I intended for the first month or so. Even then, I knew that the pieces weren’t perfectly matched. I could feel the wobbles and creaks of the way I wrote my characters, and the jolts from scene to scene. But it didn’t matter. I kept going, as is the only way, and I finished it in July. I had written them, my characters and worlds were alive! These citizens of my mind, free at last, for me to see their flaws and mine.
First draft is a wonderful, god awful thing. There is no more pure creative experience than the first. That’s the one where you put your skills to their most brutal test. You’re navigating, trying to find the path from place to place you always thought you knew, until now. You’re bringing things into existence, straight from scratch, regardless of the pictures and the notes you made, and all the things you thought were research for this act. You’re naked, you really are, right before the blank. That’s all there is. That’s all you need. And it’s all you have. First draft is the place where you swing from high and low, tumbling around with your work like an adolescent tryst, at once warring and romantic. First draft is first love.
I know that Alpha’s draft is rough. So it should be. I bit off more than I ever should have done with this tale. Some forgiving part of me sees all the clearer now why it took so long for me to face it, and make it real. There’s a book in there. An imperfect, downright broken one, but it is there. For as much of a catalogue of notes is worth, this is better. First draft is the best ingredient there is for second draft, and third. Just add blood, sweat and tears, right?
In truth, I’ve no idea how many drafts there are between me and publishing this book of mine. But I shan’t skimp them. In fact, I’ll need to learn to appreciate that new pain for what it is: another kind of chops.
My plan for Alpha, when I get back to it in some months, isn’t just a spruce up. I’ll be cutting words — whole scenes I suspect, and enjoying the fact — but Venus doesn’t lie waiting in that rock. There’s whole things I’ve forgotten. Pieces of the story, tastes of the environment, and likely even characters quite entire, remain to be made right. Remain to be made in the first place! I’ll be messing with the whole thing in a pretty big way, I think. Certainly, that’s what I feel needs done. I know I can do better than what I sense I have. And I know nothing’s ever right on the first attempt, not when you can take a second.
Daunting, sure, but I am also looking forward to it. All the better than playing god is playing god’s director!
If I’d been better prepared, Proteus would be first draft complete as well. Surely I had no sense it would take longer than the story proper! Anyway, there’s quite a lot to its draft already, and I’m torn between taking Marie’s pen and pushing forth with it, or going back and practicing my rework skills before they come to Alpha.
Proteus was my backstory that went quite awry. I’m only very vaguely aware of where it’s heading, as you may well tell by giving it a read. (A task I must make easier with an index, as I made for Alpha’s first draft.) Marie’s first person perspective was a great little trick to get me started, but I took her place too literally and have written too much detail as a result. Proteus is quite a tale in its own right, as I discovered in its craft, and I need to pull the reins on it to have a chance to reach the end. I had that unnerving sense as Alpha’s Act IV slid askew when I met it, and for quite the same reason. Much to gain, then, in practicing this kind of repair work.
I can sit here and listen to Kira Neris all I want, writing about writing as I so often do. But it’s this fearful work that counts. This liberating slog, this beautiful mess, and, in the end, the very best thing that I do. I’ve a ton of work to make good on yet. And I welcome it, just as much as I wriggle away. It’ll show, and that’s all the reason I need.
If it comes too cheap, it ain’t chops.