The Midwest has been experiencing our share of winter weather, and I hope all of you have been staying safe!
I wanted to share a poem by Shekhar Aiyar published by Able Muse called Crash, Trance, Winter. I hope you take a few moments to read it, because it’s only eight lines long! Even though it’s a poem about something incredibly stressful and unpleasant (a car crash), the author manages to make it sound beautiful.
On New Year’s Eve, I finished the second draft of my novel (yay!), which is also the reason why I did not post here in December. All of my creative efforts were funneled into that draft.
The Importance of Multiple Drafts
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of revision in writing. It’s a huge milestone to create a second draft because it signals a fundamental change in the status of one’s manuscript. Instead of being as substantive as a puddle of unset jello, it’s looking more like the consistency of a beautiful cheesecake!
Or, to use another metaphor, a piece of writing is like a cake. Your first draft is pretty crappy, kind of like your first attempt at making a cake from a box mix. Maybe only your loved ones are willing to look at it, and even they have to reach a bit to compliment it. “Oh, it looks so nice,” they say. Really, though, a child probably could have done it. And maybe that child wouldn’t have confused salt for sugar. Oops!
You’ve definitely accomplished something, though, and a crappy cake from a box is better than having no cake at all. This draft is crucial. You have to start somewhere or you can never get better!
Your second draft is really something to be proud of. It looks like the sort of cake you might order from a big chain store. Nothing mind-blowing to be sure, but it has the look of something professional. The design and other choices make sense. You started using some proper tools, and it really shows up on that icing. People will probably be really excited to consume this, and they might be pretty impressed that you created it!
So what happens if you persevere and keep improving upon that draft until you get to your 3rd+ draft? That’s when you end up with something that has finesse and artistry. The draft has a cohesive theme and style, and you can tell that every choice was made deliberately and executed beautifully.
There are layers upon layers of complexity: the cake might have tiers and multiple fillings and realistic-looking sugared garnishes. You start using phrases like ganache when describing your creations. No regular person could make a cake like this. It takes skill and years of training. It might even have a simple design, but it will nonetheless be executed with expert precision. This is the final draft.
If my predictions and hopes are correct, my journey from second to third draft will be a bit less strenuous than the immense jump from the first draft to the second draft.
I Finished my Store-Bought Cake Draft!
My goal for December was to finish my second draft. And lo, right on the 31st, I finished those edits. I had pregnancy-friendly sparkling grape juice and my husband cooked my favorite food (steak!) in support. There was much celebrating and feasting in the Bennett house that day.
But something that surprised me, something that I haven’t heard many other people or writers discuss, is how I felt after finishing that draft. For months and months I’ve been striving toward the same goal: to get my draft ready for other eyes (finish the 2nd draft) before my baby arrives. I’ve used all kinds of different tactics to achieve that goal: I’ve been waking up early, squeezing in writing time during lunch breaks at work, and staying up late. I gave up several of my downtime activities like playing video games or watching much TV during the week. I even scaled back some of my involvement in certain writing critique groups in support of my one goal.
With all those sacrifices in mind, I think I expected to feel a sense of relief when the great effort was over. I imagined I would feel a tremendous sense of achievement and that my whole being would be able to relax in knowing my goal was met and that my book was solidly on its way out into the world. I thought I would feel less stressed knowing that the hard work of my book would be already done before my child arrived and upended all my routines.
I am incredibly happy and proud and relieved to have met my goal, but the overwhelming feeling that was biggest after finishing that draft was something else. The word that best describes it is emptiness.
Emptiness upon meeting my big stretch goal. Is that bizarre? In the week after I met this goal, I felt as though I were missing something or someone in my life! I felt like a drifter with no purpose. My new free time felt more like a chore that I had to take care of somehow rather than a freedom.
I missed the crazed, deadline-induced mania of putting my all into something and to have a clear purpose for every unused moment. I realized that the process of creating this second draft, which had been so difficult, was something that I would actually miss.
I know the obvious answer to this feeling is to start working on the third draft, but I think it is important to give the draft some time to breathe, and also to let myself recover from the tremendous sprint that was finishing it.
So I’m living in this slightly uncomfortable moment and allowing (read: forcing!) myself to do some things I have not had time to do for a while (not to mention relax during my last month of pregnancy!). Movies, shows, games, play, leisure, and socialization. These things are important too.
That’s why I’m dedicating at least this week to relaxation and reconnecting with the parts of my life that have been pushed out of the picture for a while. After that, I’ll be looking for beta readers and turning this average little store-bought cake draft into a refined, tiered, wedding-cake draft!
What about you? Do you ever have a sense of loss after finishing a big project? Did you ever have an experience where you expected to feel one way and ended up feeling something completely different? If you’re a writer, what metaphor would you use to describe the unskilled, glorious mess that is your first draft?