Dear Flist, Dear Blog, Dear World,
I have finished the Third Draft of
Tavern Wench Muffin Maid Animal Rescuer
Do you find it anticlimactic to announce in so dramatic a fashion the Grande Finale of a piece of work for the THIRD TIME?
I don't, but I can see that you might.
The First Draft is a glorious vomit, isn't it? It's all so very joyful and raw, and afterwards, one feels giddy and accomplished, and LOOK I MADE A THING, and everyone coos over it, like it's a new baby, but like a new baby, its skull is VERY SOFT and it still needs to be fed, and it wakes up crying in the night, and all those MESSES and it doesn't even have TEETH.
A book ought to have teeth, oughtn't it?
And then there's the Second Draft. Wherein you (or more specifically, I) take the 50,000 word literary equivalent of the results of retroperistalsis and scoop it up into some kind of viable shape, usually bloated, wherein world-building takes precedence over plot and forward momentum, and extravagant displays of your MOST VERY FANCIEST vocabulary shimmy and shake and do the sloppiest sort of can-can across the pages.
The second draft is 86,000 words, which is REASONABLE, but the beginning makes no sense and the middle is a saggy-bloated-self-indulgent (so your nice beta readers say, in the nicest possible way) pregnant-Shelob of a viscous mess, and the thing needs to be SKEWERED with Glamdring in one hand and Orcrist in the other, then burnt to a socket and baptized in nitroglycerin, and then maybe it'll be something worth reading.
And you THINK that's what the Third Draft will be about. Oh, it's a BREEZE, you think, the HARD PART is already OVER THE RAINBOW, PAL O' MINE.
Except the Third Draft then becomes trying to make Michelangelo's David out of a block of cement using nothing but your teeth.
No word remains the same. You realize that the info dump in the middle? REALLY ought to be unpacked into a series of quick, entertaining, but also illuminating chapters at the beginning.
You need to balance ACTION SCENES with those quiet character scenes that you love, that you think are actually NECESSARY (though not perhaps wholly SANCTIONED by the Bone Fide "Way to Write A Novel in the West" Hegemony, and who knows? THEY'RE PROBABLY RIGHT! Who am I to say? Except that I like the quiet scenes), and you need, you ABSOLUTELY NEED to make your protagonist a bit less of a THREE DAY OLD PARTIALLY COOKED SPAGHETTI NOODLE into something a bit more, shall we say, AL DENTE! (S'il vous plaît et GRAZIE!)
And in the meantime, obviously you hadn't world-built enough, and the stuff you had takes the form of impartial British-narrator Eye of God expository, and you really want something more intimate, don't you, something that sits RIGHT ON THE SHOULDER of your doughty wee protagonist, occasionally hopping right behind her eyeballs or sitting in her churning stomach. And sometimes, maybe three times in the entire book, widening that lens and letting it fly to an enraged, psychopathic (and yet, with this new draft, sometimes even SYMPATHETIC) sister, or her enraged, psychopathic TOTES ADORBS niece (it's a family of pyschopaths, except the protagonist, who's allergic), or her quite sane best friend, who doesn't know why the protagonist is floating three stories up with sparks coming out of her hair.
And on top of ALL OF THIS, Ysabeau Wilce told you VERY SPECIFICALLY that she wanted a little GRAVEYARD SEX in this draft, and when Ysabeau Wilce, the author of the Flora Segunda books, which you read all of - SEVERAL TIMES - tells you to do something, you DO IT! And then add another fun scene in a wintry garret as well, just so that she'll like you.
Also, Delia Sherman requested more gender-bending in general. Or "Floomping" as you've heard it called. You gave Delia Sherman a whole Festival of Floomp. Because she is Delia Sherman, and you love her. The word "floop" you stole directly from the Glorious Women of WisCon. You will doubtless remember to mention the originators of the word in your acknowledgements, should this project ever come to need an acknowledgements page. I think Julia Rios actually knows their names. You must remember to ask Julia Rios.
And then, after six months of labor, you finish your book. Yet again.
And you think, all right. Now all I have to do is write a synopsis. And a cover letter. And find out the names and email addresses of ALL THE AGENTS. And put your business hat on. And try to get an agent. And a contract. And a deal.
Now is ALSO the time to find out if the last six months meant anything at all...
...Or if, in fact (nightmare), your manuscript has gotten progressively worse as you worked on it.
It's certainly longer - at a little over 100,000 words. You'd wanted it LESS bloated, not more so.
And you try to remind yourself that muscle weighs more than fat. And you think this thing, while perhaps not LEAN, is sinewy.
And you remember that Amal El-Mohtar once said your writing was full of "muscular velocity" and how all you want in life is to fulfill that description, and you hope, this time, that Miscellaneous Stones: Assassin, does.
Things I noticed about process this round:
1.) Chewing gum keeps me focused. (It's also sometimes tea, sometimes chocolate, sometimes nuts... Some kind of oral fixation? But chewing gum lasts the longest and is the least horrible to the health. Tea comes next. After a while, switch to herbals, because... Whoa. Coming off a caffeine addiction after six months of wintry weather and writing = MAJOR THREE-DAY HEADACHE.)
2.) I have to be constantly reading or listening to audiobooks while writing. I know that Stephen King can't do this, because it's the whole Milk and Onions thing for him. But I'm not worried as much about sounding like ALL MY INFLUENCES EVER as I am about drying up and losing battery. I need to know, all the time, I need to know in my BONES, that books can be FINISHED PRODUCTS. That they can make it out onto the world, onto the page, into my ear. And that they can be pleasurable experiences. I need to remember how much I love books, and how happy they make me, how happy story makes me, while my own is still making me wretched. While it's making me bleed. I need to remember that the writing process is FINITE. Or at least CERTAIN PROJECTS are.
3.) Walking. Walking, walking, walking, walking, walking.
4.) Lighting candles. Filling the room with a certain heat and light and smell that I associate with writing.
5.) Writing facing a window. (Also, if I am writing 8, 9, 10 hours, I move around the house, following the light, following the sky. But always facing a window, somewhere.)
And on that night, I give you my favorite song about writing.
Which is a song, actually, about painting - "Finishing the Hat" - as sung by George Seurat in Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George." The song starts in earnest at about 1:15. Some lyrics first...
"...Finishing the hat
How you have to finish the hat
How you watch the rest of the world
From a window
While you finish the hat
Mapping out a sky
What it feels like, planning a sky
How it feels when voices that come
Through the window, go
Until they distance and die
Until there's nothing but sky
And how you're always turning back too late
From the grass or the stick
Or the dog or the light
How the kind of woman willing to wait
Not the kind that you want to find waiting
To return you to the night
Dizzy from the height
Coming from the hat, studying the hat..."