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When done means done

A few moments ago I typed what is the last sentence in the first draft of my second novel.  That tipped me over the 128k mark.  Does that mean I’m done?  No.

Finishing the first draft of the first novel, a couple years ago, was an overwhelming feeling.  I couldn’t wait to print the sucker out.  In fact, I did print it out and carried the wad of paper around with me, just to feel the weight of it.  I’m sure I caused amusement at the first writing workshop I did immediately afterward, slapping its bulk onto tables just to prove I finished it.  And – don’t get me wrong.  Finishing feels great.  But maybe it’s just that I know how unfinished finished really is.

I had no idea how much my first novel would change with every reader’s report and every rewrite.  Points of view changed.  Tenses changed and changed again.  Whole characters were created or deleted.  I didn’t want to believe it, but the first draft was just a floor plan.  It was a map of what the story was and how the characters would be changed by the story and the choices they made throughout it.  It was the story in its rawest form, sure, but it wasn’t writing yet.  It wasn’t good writing, at any rate.  It was only the ghost of the novel I would end up with – a novel I am about to rewrite again, now that I’ve finished this second one.

So, finishing the first draft of this second novel feels epic on the one hand.  Blimey, those are a lot of words in a relatively short time for a recovering playwright.  So many of them will simply have to go.  Realistically, all of them will go and be replaced by better words that more accurately tells the story that I’ve just laid down.  Like Arthur Murray’s footprints, I know where I’m going and I know where to put my feet.  But is that dancing?  Probably not.  The fancy footwork and the flourishes belong to later drafts, now that I have found the dance floor and put my shoes on the right feet.

I’ve left a few holes in the narrative.  Some places are just bullets or questions, places where I could feel the story changing but I knew I had to keep trudging forward.  If I looked backward, I might never be able to turn myself around again.  And a lot of the writing is just telling the story.  Not telling in an opposed-to-showing way, because I not a very “telly” kind of writer, but I mean just showing what happens, like when you tell someone a story in a bar, if you do such things, this happened then this happened, and not knowing myself how moments would lead to moments and how characters would reveal themselves through what they said and did.  Having finished this draft, at least I know what and who I’m dealing with.

So – hurrah!  Yippee!  Woot woot!  But tomorrow, it’s another sit down, to have a look at the holes and see what needs plugging now.  To tidy up my Scrivener files.  See what I can throw away.  And then I put the whole thing away for a while and turn back to the first novel, the one that is screaming out for work, the one that knows what it is now and is just waiting for me to make it so.  And after the first draft of the second novel has composted a bit and, hopefully, I’ve forgotten about it for a while, it will be time to crank up the printer and carry around another few reams of paper.  Sorry, trees!

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