It should be fairly evident to anyone who has been following my editorials that I've been having just the teensiest bit of difficulty getting to the second draft of my novel.
I've found this reluctance a bit of a surprise. While I approached the first draft with a certain amount of trepidation, the experience was actually a delight. I loved writing that first draft. I don't think I've enjoyed writing task quite so much. I couldn't wait to sit down to the computer and begin the next scene. And much to my amazement, that first draft actually got finished.
And that's where things came to a screeching halt. Oh, I said, I'll just give myself a bit of a break, and come back fresh. Maybe a bit longer break. Maybe a sabbatical. Maybe a round-the-world cruise, followed by a lengthy quest for enlightenment at some remote monastery, and then another cruise... Suffice it to say that time has passed, copious amounts of water have flowed under bridges, and the second draft is no closer to being begun.
Now we stand on the brink of yet another New Year, with that first-of-the-year urge to set goals and tackle the important stuff, and I'm asking myself... why? What is it about a Second Draft that makes it such a different, and more intimidating, prospect than the first?
And then it came to me. The first draft was romance. The second draft is marriage.
The first draft was a dance of delight without commitment. Put simply, I could enjoy the relationship without worrying about whether or not I could actually make it work. One of the mind-games I played was the classic "It's a first draft, it doesn't have to be good." The words don't have to be right. The rhythm doesn't have to be perfect. Plot holes can be filled in later. Research gaps can be noted and attended to in the future. We're just having fun together, my novel and I, spending time together and seeing where it goes without worrying obsessively about whether it's going "in the right direction."
But now, it's time to ask harder questions. Tackling a second draft is not just a stroll in the park. It's a commitment. One can no longer get away with saying, "The little things don't matter." In a second draft, they do matter. One can't say, "Hey, I don't have to worry about making it work" -- because making it work is the whole point of a second draft.
Nor is it just a commitment to "hard work." If hard work scared us away from writing, we'd never get anything done. There are lots of writing tasks one can undertake that involve every bit as much work as a novel, but nowhere near the amount of commitment. Because the commitment isn't just about effort. It's about emotion.
Writing a novel is, in many ways, a process of embarking upon and committing to a relationship. A novel is something you're going to spend time with -- a lot of time with. It's going to consume hours of your waking life. Even when you're not working on it, you'll be thinking about it, worrying about it, perhaps even having conversations with your characters in your head. You'll know more about the lives of your characters than you may know about some of your own relatives. When things are going well, you'll wonder if they're really going well, or if you're just deceiving yourself. When they aren't -- well, stock up on the chocolate ice cream!
It is an emotional commitment. It raises doubts, fears, concerns. Is this the right book to commit to? Is this really something I want to dedicate the next X months or years of my life to? Do I have what it takes to make this work? What if I don't have what it takes to make it work?
Like any relationship, we come to it with hopes, expectations, and dreams. A novel isn't just a certain number of words. It's words into which we have invested our hearts -- and we hope that investment will "pay off." We want that novel to be a success. We want others to read it and fall in love with it, just as we've fallen in love. We don't want it to end up on the remainder shelf, or worse, never make it to the top of the slush pile. And if the relationship doesn't "work out," we'll blame ourselves, and perhaps start to wonder if we have what it takes to make any novel work.
In short, a novel has a unique power: It has the power to fulfill our dreams, or break our hearts. Mere "work" alone does not have that power. Only a relationship has such power.
So if you are finding yourself shying away from a first draft, or a second draft, or a third, take heart. You're not lazy. You're not afraid of work. You're afraid of commitment -- and everything that a commitment means. Deep down, we realize that only by giving that relationship our all, and holding nothing back, can we truly "make it work." It's no small step to take.
But without taking that step, we fail before we begin. So perhaps, as we look ahead to a New Year, we need to say more than simply "I will." We need to open our hearts, embrace our fears, and say... "i do."