Two weeks ago, I handed a draft of my second novel, One-Man Reservation, to a friend. (At this point, I’ve lost track of the number of drafts—this one is probably number six.) Unfortunately, I confused the time we were supposed to meet. When I went to sleep at 2 am, I thought that if I got up at 5:30, I'd have a vast amount of time to finish the items on my “essential delights/tasks” list. (I’m trying to frame things positively these days, hence the word “delight”). Instead, five minutes after I should have left, I realized what the real appointment time was and I still had to finish the tasks, get the draft printed, tame my hair, brush my teeth.
My confusion of the time, and my push to get the draft done, laid the groundwork for the inner critic to erode my joy and my confidence – since I couldn’t even keep the time straight, I clearly can’t write a novel that is coherent, engaging, and (my deepest hope) penned with a graced sense of language. On my journey of bringing forth a novel, I had fallen into the middle space, and stumbled over a tripwire. Instead of being able to celebrate the fact that I had done a major revision – cutting the 90,000 word draft down to 45,000 and then adding in a new 23,000 – all I was felt was this qualm implosion.
In a panic, I decided which tasks could wait for the next draft (e.g., write birth scene, and the stuff from the guru) and which were integral to basic storyline clarity (e.g. clarify family at the beginning, write the scene of moving weed, and why are they on horses at the end?) and the things that just didn’t make sense, (e.g. when did it become a pistol?!). I texted my friend that I would be late, but the critic started digging in, letting me know what a piece of crap I was for trying to write a book, for thinking I had something worthwhile to offer the world. The friend wrote back, “Not a problem,” and I finished the tasks in a harried, mad-dash of non-brilliance.
I had forgotten the wonder of writing from part of my self to another. Usually, while I’m drafting the “real” stuff, I keep another document open, where I try to track all the things that need to be woven together. It is this second document that allows me to welcome the critic in to help me follow the story lines and character quirks and the plot subtleties – this is when I need her, not when I’m feeling hounded. When things are going well, it’s like one part of my self holds space for another part of the self, each connected by this thin thread of communication. Under time pressure, under the desire to be able to bring all the disparate elements of a novel together, the thread became a tripwire.
Now that a little time has passed and I’ve read the draft I handed over, I've had some space to consider what is working in the book. Some of the ground that the panic, lack of sleep, and the “against the wall” feeling had eaten away has been restored. I'm able to see that with enough time and perspective, there are things I can do to tighten the work, to make it something that might do justice to the characters I believe in and am beholden to. I’m in that middle ground, the place where the working relationship between the selves is the fulcrum for completing the work. After I finish reading this draft and I get feedback from the first reader, I’ll be able to work through the writing, tightening, honing – and yes, please, getting rid of all that over-wrought language.
But that raw feeling, the sting of knowing the work isn’t near complete, won’t go away completely. Each draft handed over intensifies the tremors of fear, and I don’t think there is anything that can eliminate the sting. It’s part of the process. But as I long as I remember that time and a discerning eye (both mine and a trusted reader’s) will give me what I need to improve, I’ll live through the pain, anchored in a deeper sense of process, balancing self with self.