Gutting a draft.

Just like that, a month passed. 

I’m buried deep in book renovation. I mentioned that this year I planned to return to one of my novels, overhaul-edit it, and complete it. I met with a friend in late 2013 who talked me through the possible option of self-publication, an idea I had refused to entertain previously (because I am traditional and a bit snobbish, it turns out). This conversation led to some soul-searching, featuring questions like Why do you want to complete a novel? Is it for fame or is it to actualize your ambitions and desires? Are e-books really stones on the trail to the destruction of civilization? and most of all, Are you happy as the muscles of authorship atrophy? By forcing myself to stand off with these reflections I was first humbled, and second propelled to return to my first novel (ironically my best story) and gut it.

That’s what intensive editing looks like, gutting a fish. I flayed it open – a re-read with fresh eyes after two years of forgetting the finer plot points. I was surprised to find that I still loved the story. It’s dangerous to even admit, but the story of this book came to me in a dream over four years ago. I woke up, stunned, and I wrote it, God as my source and witness. I started pulling out the guts – went through those pages of Times New Roman with a slasher pen making big Xs and frown faces and question marks, writing comments like this sucks; no no no; ugh, remove; nobody says that; this doesn’t work; and most commonly AWFUL. I removed major plot points and replaced them with ones that were more specific, unique, myself. Now I am somewhere between the disposal of the guts step and the the carving out pieces of lovely white meat step.

This go around with the book has been much different than previous drafts. Before, when I edited, if I was stuck or dissatisfied I would move forward with the notion that I would fix the problem in the next draft. However now I am compelled to spend time on each beat, each dialogue, each metaphor, stopping when it isn’t excellent and hovering there until it reads like a polished piece because I am going for completion. There is a word for subjecting myself to this kind of painstaking work, and that word is patience. My friend, also a writer with whom I am exchanging pages for pages, each of us helping the other edit with somewhat painful frankness, talks with me about this. Patience with writing, the discipline of working on a single page, a single paragraph, for days! It isn’t ludicrous, though it seems so. With eyes fixed on the destination, we can embrace the patience it takes to arrive there, for without patience we never will! Egg whites do not turn to meringue simply by one turn of the whisk. I do not want to put out a mediocre piece of literature, and turning a shitty first draft into a tremendous final draft is a laborious process.

I set my alarm in the fives and usually get up at six. I peel my body from the bed and I sit on edge for a few moments. The coffee has automatically brewed and I add cream by the light of the refrigerator. It is dark, and everyone else is still sleeping. I go to the guest room where my computer waits on my desk and I blink my eyes a hundred times to try and wake up. I work for the hour until Jack gets up, the dog wants out, Mark is getting ready for work. It is one dark, silent hour a day, but it’s all I get so bit by bit, I am making headway.

I keep reminding myself that writing is my work, it is not who I am. With that in mind, the work I was made for is a most joyful endeavor.