I have recently begun the second draft of my Agile Writers novel. For some, it seems, the second draft is a breeze. They go through and plug in the edits they got from their wonderful critique partners, humming along and spitting out fifteen or twenty pages a week.
This has not been my experience. I have had a very difficult time with rewriting. Somehow it seems more challenging than the initial draft in many ways. Two quotes about the creative process have come to mind for me at this stage:
“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, sh*t, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: have the courage to write badly.” – Joshua Wolf Shenk, writer
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” – Ira Glass, radio personality, host and producer
It is so interesting that different parts of the process call on different skills and strengths and so come more or less easily to different writers. It is too easy to look back at my work in this first rewrite and see that there is so much improvement still to be made and then get discouraged. These two quotes help me to see past that initial discouragement. In a way, the fact that I still think the writing needs a lot of work is the first step toward better writing. I cannot correct for mistakes of which I am not aware.
The second draft comes with unique challenges. The insights and ideas that came to me part way through writing the first draft now have to be woven back into the earlier pages. I know my characters better, so must set them up to meet their eventual ends with greater clarity. The larger ideas are all there. Rendering them in the minutiae of each page and paragraph is the challenge.
I am so grateful, again, for the Weekly Check-In and Critique Sessions—two Agile Writers tools that keep me moving forward. Without the supportive environment of Agile Writers I am afraid that the start of the second draft would be the place that finally breaks me. Renders me paralyzed and unable to step forward. Of course, that place is different for everyone. And we always stand on the edge of another such enormous hurtle. It is the daily practice of writing that rescues us from our own grand imaginations and fears. And it is the accountability of other writers that often returns us to the keyboard day after day.