The Good Drafts, and the Bad.
Just finished the first draft to the 2nd Mark Mallen novel.
That one… hurt.
This is what I would term a “bad draft”. It was hard. Beat me to shit and then laughed as it stood over me, victorious, reveling in the fact that if it was better than anything, it was better than me. No, it’s not always like that. An earlier draft of what will become Untold Damage, the one I did for my editor over at Midnight Ink, came out of me like Jimmy Page riffing during the solo section of Dazed and Confused. It was just so easy. However, as the draft for the 2nd book bogged down more and more, I felt that maybe I’d gotten cocky since the first one went so well and easy. Maybe that’s true, not sure.
What I AM sure of is that the pressure is different now. (And by the way, I’m listening to June Carter Cash singing “Will the Circle be Unbroken”. Yeah, the one they play at the end of an episode of Deadwood. Pure awesome.) I have an entirely different group of people relying on me. Maybe that’s what made this draft so difficult. The pressure. I’ve heard this from a lot of my writer friends who have sold their novels; that the first one you write AFTER the one that sold is a tough slog. And trust me, I really struggled with this bastard, so this is feeling like what they told me was indeed true.
But beyond all that I realized that this is how it just is. Sometimes the drafts are good and strong, and sometimes they’re not. This last draft was, as Anne Lamott calls them in her timeless “Bird by Bird”, “a down draft”. One where you just.get.it.down. The next draft will then be, as she also tells us, the “up draft”, the one where you fix it up.
You have to have faith for something like that, right? That no matter how bad the draft is, the next one will be able to be fixed up. I have that faith, I really do. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it ain’t over ’til it’s over. There’s a lot of crap in this current draft, no doubt. There’s a lot of stuff I’ll have to take out, a lot to repair, a ton to rethink…
But at least there’s SOMETHING TO RETHINK.
For me, I can’t work in a void. I doubt any of us can. I NEED to have something to work from. Even 278 pages of pure bird cage liner. There are a lot of things that I know I can use when I begin the next draft. There are a lot of… place markers, for lack of a better phrase.
This is the process. This is the work.
So, always try to keep in mind, as you work forward with your writing, that you have to fight through the bad. Don’t allow it to beat you. If that draft is standing on your chest, laughing in victory, punch that bastard in its bread basket and throw it to the floor. Pull the stuffing out of it like it was The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, then get back to work.
Because, in the end, that’s all we really have as writers: the work.