Back in the earlier part of November, I started writing my novel, “Carla’s Rivet,” as part of National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo). I had already laid out an outline prior to November first, and had been thinking it, dreaming it, and breathing it until I could finally put fingers to keyboard. The result was a 50,000 word first draft in 13 days. First of all, I couldn’t believe I did it. I actually sat down and hammered out something relatively coherent in less than two weeks. I was astounded with myself for all of five minutes. Then I realized that fifty-thousand words are not enough. The story was far from finished.
I often do what I call draft 1.5. It’s the in-between draft where I go in and clean up the first draft just a little bit (any glaring grammatical errors, spelling issues, common sense errors) and add a little more to the draft to beef it up where it might feel lean. Draft 1.5 is a way for me to really meet the creation I birthed without judging it too harshly. It’s the cushion draft: no stress, no pressure. I look at what my characters are trying to say and the story they’re trying to tell and help them just a little bit. As if I’m not writing a 1.5 draft, but the characters are writing their first and they’ve hired me on to do a little light copy editing for them.
So I read through “Carla’s Rivet” and cringed in some places, applauded in others, felt the joys and pains and depths my characters asked me to feel, came to the end and sighed. I took five days off. Five days where I forced myself not to think about the book. I played Sims 3, every little Yahoo game I could, wrote longhand letters to family members (because I can’t not write, even when I’m supposed to not write), drank tea, did a rehearsal for a play reading I’m in, everything to leave Carla and her Rivet behind for a little while.
While I sat thinking about writing when I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about writing, I picked up “The Stone Diaries” by Carol Shields and began reading. I have to admit, I’m a serial reader. I know, the shock, right? I start multiple novels at once so that depending on the mood I’m in, I can pick up the story I’m most interested in that night. That means I am currently in the middle of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” as well as Louis DeBerneires’ “Birds Without Wings,” and a little book of zen lessons I am eating bit by bit. So, as I’m reading “The Stone Diaries,” a curious thing begins to happen: I am absorbing how to expand a thought, to make things more visceral and real, to go deeper into what my characters are trying to say. I always read with dual purpose (if not more), but this time it really hit me what I needed to do with my second draft. I needed to ask the characters what more they needed, truly needed, to say. What more did they need me to see that I didn’t see?
Fresh from my partial week off, I picked up Carla’s Rivet again and started in on the second draft. I’m absolutely amazed at what is happening. Conversations I thought were finished and sufficient, aren’t. the characters are talking more – and not in a overblown, waste-of-words sort of way – but in a true to life manner. They’re showing me places that needed more work, things important to see and remember that come back later as meaningful somehow. I’m seeing the cotton batting that needs to come out and the solid bricks that need to be put back in their place. It’s slow going, but my wrinkled infant of a first draft that I speed birthed, is very slowly turning into a rambunctious toddler. Third draft will be growing it into a young adult. Fourth draft will be sending it off to college, and finally, after another once over, my little baby will be ready to hit the world all on its own.
I’m well ahead of myself now and having warm fuzzy feelings. Let me back up to say, it’s been the reading that has made this possible. Seeing how the other writers have navigated their worlds, how they’ve put their work down on paper in a way that makes me feel and visualize, and taking those lessons back to my own book to make it work. Writers read… all the time… even in the middle of writing their own books.
Writing is a tough job, make no bones about it. It is bleeding out a story onto a page that drains you from the task of putting it down. It’s rearranging the story so that it is exciting, makes sense, and is so real from its fiction that you could see it happen if you only squinted hard enough. Then it’s draft after draft to squeeze, mold, primp, paint, and deodorize. Soon enough, that hard work will be left to the world, and your story will be walking under its own power.