Last week I attended a talk by Daniel Handler at Hugo House. Handler was witty and intelligent and generous (and the topic, “bewilderment,” fascinating). During the Q&A, someone asked how many drafts he typically writes. If memory serves, he said three or four. What stuck out was his quip about second drafts:
You think, I’m just going to fix this crown molding. And then you step back and realize you have to burn the house down. –Daniel Handler
I laughed at the truth of those words; simultaneously, I wanted to cry and rage and despair at the truth of them.
I usually try and maintain a “glass half full” outlook, but here’s the truth: writing a second draft is really effing hard. At least, writing MY second draft has been really effing hard, and if that’s not a universal truth I don’t want it acknowledged because it’ll make me feel like shit.
I am actively angry at the words that blink back at me from the computer screen. I tweak them and move them and delete them and add them back in. Every once in a while there’s an “ah ha” moment of pieces clicking into place–that one chapter, that one scene, that one sentence finally doing what I want it to do.
More often than not, the words spit back, “That’s all you got?”
I have not met any of my deadlines for this draft. First I was going to have it done by the end of December. Then January. Now here we are with daffodils pushing dirt and the final chapters remain in their untouched state.
At this point I just want to be done. Every cell in my body craves to be done, to no longer have to think about narrative arc and character development and scenery description. And of course the irony is that it won’t be done until I sit down and finish the damn thing. Until I wrestle this untamable, obtrusive, offensive second draft into submission.
I could make excuses about being busy or sick or bored but really it’s just every time I open the project I am angry at the lack of progress, the lack of perfection. I am angry just thinking about it. “Burn it all down,” the back of my mind says. Burn it all down.
But for better or worse, five years of metaphorical sweat and (some) literal tears are not something to just throw away.
Sometimes we just need to acknowledge that this is really hard, what we do. It’s also a blessing and a lark and a joy, but writing is also really damn hard.
No glass half full–that’s just the truth. And like so many writers before me, I will shut up and push on and someday, somehow, finish the second draft.
Then I can move on to the third.