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The Unbearable Lightness of Drafts

Back when I started this journey of “You know what, Imma do this for realz!”, I began reading and listening to people who knew more than I did about the craft of writing. Everyone had their quirks of process, different things they were better or worse at, varying ways of approaching it. I am happy to have seemingly reached a point, where it doesn’t all feel abstract and I can start figuring out how those experiences apply to me, rather than stumbling completely in the dark.

But one thing that none of the books and podcasts prepared me for, was drafts.

As I have said before, my current writing is a mutated form of obsessive-compulsive discovery. I completed the initial draft of a novel some time ago, after a fairly pants-y process of figuring out what the story was, and how to get it to go where it seemed to want to go. I went back constantly to rewrite, adding or removing passages, lines, or entire chapters. Then I gave it some time to ferment, while jotting down thoughts as they came to me, about what the second draft should be like.

Now, over halfway through said second draft, I feel incredibly overwhelmed. Happily, this is not preventing me from working on it, but it is so much more difficult than I expected it to be. The book is… not small, and I have introduced some significant changes after I had time to think about it. But my brain helpfully dredges up a constant stream of loose ends, things that have suddenly become inconsistent or nonsensical after the new alterations, or simply “better” ideas of how events and characters are to evolve.

This is not my first novel, but it is the first I mean to push through a querying stage. As such, it is the first time I am faced with such a level of complexity in editing, and I was surprised at how difficult it was. (This is not to be taken as me claiming that I am doing a good job of it…)

The conversations by professional writers regarding drafts, that I have encountered so far, are mostly about the spectrum of outlining and discovery. Whether people favor one, the other, or a mixture of the two, the focus tends to go into the different approaches, with multiple drafts taken as a given when the process is closer to the discovery end. I had expected that, of course, since my fledgling attempts at outlining started way after I was finished with my the first pass on this work.

But the sheer chaos of it, and the daunting awareness that for every change I make, I might be creating three new problems? Or that I might be losing the structure of the novel? Or realizing that for all the time this draft is taking, the novel will require at least a couple more? I mean, seriously, can you have an impostor syndrome before you’re published, or is this just over-the-counter anxiety?

Either way, the challenge is still about 5% more inspiring than it is depressing, so I am muscling through and learning from it. But It goes to show just how surprising certain obstacles can be, despite thinking you have anticipated them. Apparently – just like in literally every other field known to the human species – no amount of preparation can make up for the real experience. Who knew?

Published inThoughts on Writing


  1. Emma Emma

    How do you deal with the “perfection is the enemy of the good problem” when going over multiple drafts?

    • With incredible difficulty. Wanting things to be neat and organized has slowly proven itself as my biggest weakness as a writer. But I try to go with the “yes, but/no, and” formula of both problems AND solutions creating new problems.

      I am not at all sure I am successful though 😀

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