Watch out for quicksand!
On sinking into a second draft and embracing inefficiency.
Welcome to So Relatable, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring conversations about the creative process, suggestions for nourishing yourself, and inspiring links. I’m glad you’re here!
I’m now a third of the way into the second draft of my new novel, the one I began writing in earnest back in March. (As it turns out, I’m one of those annoying people who deals with a pandemic by being productive. Sorry!!!)
In general, I prefer revising over writing. First drafts have their moments, but for me they’re more about getting every wild notion out of my head and onto the page. This can be fun, but also stressful and plagued by uncertainty. Is this a good idea or a terrible mistake? Can I pull this off or am I wasting my time? Will anyone ever want to read this?
By the time I’m ready to revise, enough of those questions have been answered. Instead of grappling with character and plot, I tinker with dialogue, polish paragraphs until they shine. Craft, an afterthought during that madcap first draft, saunters through the door.
Because I love this stage, I have a tendency to start it too soon. I tinker and polish, only to realize six drafts later that all the beauty I’ve painstakingly crafted is masking a fatal flaw, like building a castle on quicksand.
This time, in an effort to stay focused on structure instead of beauty, I’m trying something new. As I revise, I’m also retyping - all 79,000 words of the book, beginning with page one.
As you might imagine, this has been a tedious and time-consuming process. I can’t just cut and paste scenes from one section to another, and if a sentence is fine as-is (rare, but it happens) I still need to write it all over again. But that’s okay, because arduous inefficiency is what I’m after. Typing the book into a fresh document is forcing me to slow down, evaluate each line, and figure out if it’s making the book stronger or hiding a weakness.
Not every page has made it from the first draft into the second, and thank god for that. At the same time, the blank expanse of an empty document offers a whiff of those first draft feelings. I know, more or less, what the house will look like, but I’m still framing it. There’s space and freedom to add a room or fill the attic, lengthen a hallway or remove a door. There’s time to watch my characters walk across the threshold, to wait and see what they do in what I’ve built.
Snack of the Week
Most of my snacks tend to give at least the illusion of health. Not this one. They were an impulse buy, a bit of freewheeling spontaneity in the Trader Joe’s aisle. (Hey, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. I have to get my thrills wherever I can find them.) Between the buttery cookie, the dollop of chocolate hazelnut in the center, and the light dusting of powdered sugar, they are nourishing in a different way. A perfect treat to help you survive the 3pm WFH slump, especially now that the days are darker and colder. Have two or five, whatever it takes.
Sedentary Pandemic Life is Bad for Our Happiness, The Atlantic. “True well-being requires disciplining the worldly appetites more than giving in to them.” During these last 8 months, my daily dog walks and HIIT workouts have been a saving grace. (Shout out to my personal YouTube guru Heather Robertson, the only reason I now have upper body strength.) Really loved this article about the link between movement and mental health. 💪
If Your To-Do List is Impossible, You’re Doing it Right, Forge. “Start with the moonshots.” BRB, revamping my whole to-do list. ✏️
Is This Where We Are, America? New York Times. “But now is not the time for half-measures. Now is the time for grand gestures and innovative thinking. Now is the time for remembering the social contract and recommitting to the idea of a unified country where we understand how intimately we are all connected. Now is the time for understanding that empathy is infinite if we allow it to be.” Roxane Gay on student loan debt forgiveness (and much more) is right on the money (pun intended, of course). 💰
It’s gift guide season, and Abigail from one of my favorite newsletters, This Needs Hot Sauce, put together a great one. I’ve already added a few of the items she included to my own wish list (that’s how these things work, right?) and now I’m even more excited for the holidays. 🎄
To Do List
Does something in your life need to be stripped down to the studs? Grab a sledgehammer and start swinging.
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