Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Five Drafts

I just barely finished a story in time for Dean Alfar's deadline (for the 4th Spec Fic Anthology), so it's been a hard day. I'm beginning to suspect that, between my workload and my sister hogging the computer at night, I'm finding it more and more difficult to delve into fiction. I'll need to factor this into my calculations next time, I think.

What complicates matters every time I put together a new work is the fact that I will slog through multiple drafts before settling on one to develop. I'm a wastebasket kind of person -- if I feel that a draft doesn't seem to be working out, even for the slightest instant, I'm liable to crunch it up and toss it in the garbage. This wastes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and more than a few plots, but it usually ensures that my attention is riveted only to those stories that are capable of holding my interest.

So far, my record lies at eleven separate drafts (I think), waaaay back when the first Spec Fic Anthology was accepting submissions. This particular one clocks in at only five drafts, fortunately, although I'm not counting the occasional attempt at story from months in the past. I was all but willing to give up after the fourth draft, but sometime in the middle of the afternoon today, I decided to give it one final go.

Here, then, are the rakings from my wastebasket this year. In case this fails to satisfy morbid curiosity, I'm pretty sure that I'll have even more unsuccessful attempts before the month is out.

First draft, circa September 5th: I start writing out the foremost plot in my mind, which involves murder in a bookstore. It's written from a first-person point of view, with the main persona being a local criminal psychologist. Because I'm out of town without access to a computer during this time, I scrawl out the story in longhand. I get as far as eight or nine paragraphs before I decide to call it a night.

Two or three days later, I get to a computer and begin transcribing the story. Eight or nine paragraphs later, I'm ready to continue writing the plot... except that I don't seem to know what comes next. After half an hour's worth of thought, I conclude that the story doesn't seem to be as workable as I originally assumed, so into the wastebasket it goes.

Second draft, circa September 13th: With only two days to go before the deadline, I convince myself that the previous version of the story was actually workable, and that I was just taking the wrong approach. So I start writing the tale again, only from the point of view of a bookstore worker this time. I get as far as five hundred words before I start telling myself that the narrative is getting more and more implausible by the second. Three minutes later, I'm crumpling it up.

Third draft, circa September 14th: I start working on a plot that's been spinning in my head for the past year, which involves a rock guitarist and his deal with the devil. I particularly like the characterization -- the devil manifests in the form of an agent named Harvey with blow-dried hair and a clip-on tie -- but the narrative eventually starts to slow down with all the exposition. Soon enough, it begins wandering around while I struggle to inject some order into the chain of events, but it ends up a barely incomprehensible mess. I pull the plug on this effort shortly after it hits eight hundred words.

Fourth draft, circa September 14th: At around eleven in the evening, I decide to try the "white heat" approach. I write whatever description comes to mind at the time, which turns out to be a cosmopolitan sci-fi setting that involves deactivated robots and people in white lab coats. Thinking that I may just have something here, I invest in some definite names for the characters and begin plotting out a pattern of events for them. It's slow going, though, and at three in the morning, I'm too tired to continue. As a result, I zip up my results, e-mail it to my work address, and tell myself that I'll fix up the rest of it the next morning. I write a short blog entry to mark my current spot in this development phase, and drift off to sleep.

The next morning, I open up my plans for the story at work, and immediately hate whatever I've written. It's unfocused, it's derivative, and it's unoriginal. I trash it without further word, and resign myself to the fact that I won't make the deadline this year.

Fifth draft, circa September 15th: Sometime in the afternoon, I get the idea of combining elements from all four previous drafts into a single story. I have no idea what to write at this point, so I try the "white heat" approach again. Thirty minutes later, I have an even six hundred words, which is impressive for something that was only spun out of thin air. By the time I exit the office, I've got one thousand words under my arm, which puts me on the threshold to a workable story.

After dinner and some interesting conversation, I move back to the office by 9:00pm to try and hash out the rest of the piece within three hours. Progress is fairly quick this time; I'm racking up the wordcount due to the extensive metaphorical descriptions that the story needs. By 10:30pm, I'm on the last section of text, which I finish and put on cleanup by about 11:00pm.

By 11:10, I've got a document formatted and on its way to the editor via e-mail. He shoots, he scores. I still have yet to see if I get to win the game as well, but that'll just be an afterthought now. At least I managed to hit the deadline today.

Now if only the story were readable. I'll probably go over it within the next couple of days to see what I should expect from it. Either it'll get in the anthology and I can relax, or it won't get in and I'll have to fix it up for submission to other venues, or it'll stink up the joint so bad that I'll have to put it to sleep.

Such is the life of a writer / fictionist / corporate lackey. No one said it was easy, I suppose.

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