Work on my second full-length novel continues, slowly. With the holidays and my wife being sick, it’s been hard getting out to Starbucks and remaining there for my typical 6 hour writing sprints (6am-12noon). Yet, even if I did, I’m finding my chapter-per-weekend progress is slowing down as I begin to sort out the final plot details, make sure my climax doesn’t fall flat, and consolidate the denouement. Creating an enemy to hate, redeeming a flawed hero, and giving weight to a fictional world is a monumental task, and it’s always at the end that the gravity begins to pull you down like a rollercoaster bottoming out. That said, the second draft is always the hardest—I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before—but for some reasons you might not expect. For me, I call this stage I’m in the “Longhaul Blues.” That is, the period of disillusionment and creative depression. After looking at sprawling sections of old passages that are, at this point, almost 2-3 years, you want to give up sometimes. Note: the benefit of long term writing projects is personal growth. Then, you start looking at Chapter 1 and the writing is beyond shit and the reality settles that every moment forward will be a slog. To reform and refine what’s there, from coal to diamonds. In a way, it’s both a victory and defeat, seeing how much progress has been made.
The acts of reverse engineering that occur when implementing the notes from draft 1 constitute the bulk of the time; which, when handled by my friend Desmond, often play out like a friar’s club roast. Incidentally, the first notes I received from him for Spirit of Orn made me laugh so hard that I was crying. (That was back when I was washing dishes at Stone Brewing Company, and every lunch break was a release from the unrelenting torment of that place.) This is the best kind of feedback. Something that forces you to realize that you “ain’t shit” and that you ARE NOT the greatest writer of all time. Humility that knocks you on your ass, that grounding, helps embed you with your own characters even, drawing your perspective down to theirs. (Life isn’t fair, there is no rudder (narrator), the struggle is omnipresent, etc.)
There is a layer of fog between the work and yourself after a while. When becoming over-familiar with something, the side effect that comes is that suddenly everything looks overdone. Certain writing conventions and stylistic choices become wrote and it begins to drive you mad. In reality, readers will not catch these devices, most of the time. They key is variety. And you also underestimate the degree by which a reader will “fill in the blanks,” hold a picture in their head of how details transpire unique to themselves. The writer doesn’t see that step in the author-fan dichotomy.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Post-draft 1 research typically begins after reviewing the notes from draft 1. (Desmond initially asked me to read Notes on the Underground and Brave New World for more insight into my main character in Spirit of Orn. Another friend, Bern, told me that I should tune the narrative to fit with a specific audience, which at the time was split between a Christian and a Science Fiction/Fantasy crowd. I chose the latter.) The books that were recommended to you, the essays that corroborate the narrative, films with conceptual inspiration, all of this prepares me for the moment leading up to starting the second draft. It’s like clinging to a life raft in a storm. Oscillating unto cresting waves before crashing down into the foam. Over and over. Then you reach a point in a chapter only to find that about 45% of it will have to be rewritten? The struggle is real friends!
My process is very regimented. That’s intentional, to a degree. I think structure helps keep the momentum, to know what comes next. The Pre-Life crisis (as opposed to mid-life crisis) comes after college, not during freshman year of high school. Its easy proceeding forward knowing what comes next. Once you are done, then what? That where shit really gets tough.
But that’s a blog for another day.