Last summer I completed the first draft of a novel. It was an occasion for rejoicing -- for me, an unprecedented achievement. And make no mistake, I'm very, very proud of that.
However... When it comes to novels, the words "first draft" and "completed" are something of an oxymoron. A first draft doesn't mean one has completed a novel. It means that one's work has just begun.
When I started that first draft, I played a mind-game that you've probably heard of: The game of telling myself that it didn't matter whether the writing was good. All that mattered was getting the words on the page. All that mattered was moving the story forward, scene by scene and chapter by chapter, from "Once upon a time" to "and they lived happily ever after." It is an excellent mind-game and I highly recommend it to anyone struggling with that all-important first draft. It works.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work on the second draft. Because, by definition, one wouldn't be doing a second draft if quality didn't matter. Absolutely the only reason to even undertake a second draft is to make your book better. The second draft is where you accept the fact that while the first wasn't bad, it also isn't everything it should be -- or that you want it to be. And if your book is ever to become what you want it to be, you have to get back into that chair and begin again. (And sometimes again and again...)
And now I will take a moment to offer an apology to several writers out there whom I've chafed, in years past, over the need to "edit." I've known several very good writers who would, I was convinced, have crossed the line to great writers if they'd only have been willing to follow through with a second draft. The general rationale for not doing so seemed to be that the writers in question just didn't feel any creative spark, any enthusiasm, any motivation when it came to rewriting.
Well, old friends, I hear you now. You're absolutely right. When it comes to second drafts, "sparks" quite often just aren't in it. Motivation is dim. The creative urge is on holiday, or contemplating the deep fulfillment to be found in rearranging the cupboard for the fourth time. If I thought it was difficult to keep butt in chair for the first draft, now I find myself scanning the calendar, muttering, "Don't I have a root canal scheduled for today? No? Drat!" In short, a synonym for "second draft" might well be "drudgery."
However... A synonym for "drudgery" might also be "work." And there's another mind-game that is common amongst writers (myself included) -- the notion that "creativity" and "work" are opposites. If I have to work at coming up with an idea, a story, a rhyme, or whatever, it's not real creativity, is it? Creativity, we often imagine, is something that flows spontaneously, like water from a stone. (Unfortunately, I suspect there are quite a few "creativity" teachers who foster this notion. I remember one rather vague lady who tried to jolly my class into writing poetry. When I chose to draw a picture of a willow instead, I was still lauded for being "creative" -- even when I knew darn well I was simply being lazy.)
On the flip side, I can also remember assisting my father, who was a graphic artist -- something I thought of as quite a creative profession (though, to be honest, he didn't). I don't know whether he honestly wanted to help me learn the ropes, or whether he just needed a pair of willing hands, but one of the tasks he set me (this was in pre-computer-graphics days) was to rub away all the oozy bits of rubber cement from his paste-ups. Now, this could possibly account for why I did not choose a career in graphic arts (though I suspect my lack of drawing talent might also have contributed) -- but it also taught me an unpleasant, but lasting lesson: There is no job so creative that it doesn't have its rubber-cement-rubbing side.
So now, with my novel, I find myself where the rubber cement hits the road, so to speak. I have a choice. I can put it aside and draw a willow tree, and convince myself that this is all I need to be a "creative genius." I can tell myself that it's "good enough" and start shopping it around to agents. I can tell myself that it's totally brilliant, and if the agents don't want it, that's their mistake. Or...
Or, I can put the butt back in the chair, and get to work. Because if "work" and "creativity" are opposites, they are coin-side opposites; one cannot exist without the other. Without creativity, there is no motivation to do the hard work; without the hard work, the creativity will never have a chance to shine. I can think of it as rubbing away rubber cement -- or I can think of it as polishing a diamond.
So let me leave this with a salute to all my fellow drudging diamond-polishers out there -- I know you are many! And I know that it often feels as if there's more drudging than diamonds. But what we're really talking about here is dreams, right? And at the end of the day, nothing shines much brighter than a dream come true -- no matter how hard we have to work to get there!
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