Eclectic Autodidact: Third drafts in the summer


I'm working on my novel again. With my girlfriend in England for a summer-abroad program I'm attempting to push through to a third draft in my solitude. However the heat has made that nearly impossible.

In my third floor apartment with no air-conditioning, I can feel the heat inside my brain, slowing down my synapses until all I can do is lie under the fan with old episodes of "Cheers" playing. It gets to the point that I can't even type because of the humidity and perspiration clinging to my body such that touching my computer would invalidate the warranty. I would go somewhere else to write but I've never been one of those people who can type in a coffee shop and for some reason all the libraries are closed on Sundays.

For all that though, I'm still making some slow progress. It's strange to see a story mutate as I tell it. The plot only loosely resembles the original sketches I made. Whole side plots emerged semi-organically. The characters that I first envisioned as taking the lead roles ended up moving to the sidelines. Henry, the brooding Byronic hero, spent most of the story a prisoner of the villain while William landed with the lion's share of the exposition. Meanwhile Elizabeth stepped up, unraveled plots, pursued villains, formed alliances, assembled the ensemble, and generally behaved in a proactively heroic manner.

As such the viewpoint has been steadily shifting towards a character that was the last of the leads to be assigned a first name. But it's funny because I think it works better, even though it wasn't how I planned it.

I've heard authors talk about stories that "write themselves" and while this one certainly hasn't I have found it to begin taking a life of its own within the narrative.

The first draft was a mad rush of unfettered creation, primordial chaos taking rough shape. The second draft was tentative, sanding out patches here and there to make the form stand out to better allow for scrutiny. But the third draft, that's where the trickiness comes in for it is here that the whole thing needs to be taken apart and reassembled to make sure it works. Every piece needs to be examined for inconsistencies, plot holes and comma splices need to be checked that they're in the right place and aren't extraneous to the overall workings. It feels less like art and more like mechanics, which can be an art to itself I suppose.

Throughout the whole process the old writing maxim, which may now be technically a cliché, hangs over my head: kill your darlings, the principle being that better work will come if the author abandons personally favored characters, plots, and concepts for the good of the story.

Of course some authors take the statement literally and their most recent books are strewn with the bones of their old heroes. So every time I read a line that I like I find myself wondering if it's actually good that I should keep; if it's something I think is good but only appeals to me and should be cut; or if I just think it's good because I subconsciously recognize it would be an awful lot of work to change.

However, it's a time-consuming process. While I want to focus on the plotting, character, and language, I keep getting sidetracked because I am completely insane about ridiculous details. Since my novel is set at a specific point in history I feel I should try to find what the weather was like each day in order to be as accurate as possible.

When a beta-reader pointed out that a non-native English speaker was speaking a little too accurately for his supposed level of proficiency I lost half an hour trying to figure out in what ways a native Hungarian speaker would struggle with English.

I really love to write, to create worlds from nothing, but another part of me is always immensely satisfied and relieved when I can put a project down again and not think about it for a few months.

Much like any other neglected task there is a weight of guilt bearing down on me when I have a writing that needs doing. But in this case instead of scrambling to avoid letting down a handful of friends or acquaintances, it's an entire world making demands. Hopefully soon the weather will break and I'll be able to finish and move onto the three other writing projects I need to complete.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions