Sunday, January 15, 2012

And the paint under my nails

Quickly, I have signed a contract that keeps me at my current role with Indigo until April 30 2012. This is good because it keeps me through the winter and allows me to see spring in eastern Canada, which I hope is even half as beautiful as fall was. It also allows me to be in town for a friend's release party and many brunches. Oh yes, and I may get a chance to complete my Indie Coffee Pass.

And now a self-indulgent post about writing, where I admit things that I probably shouldn't on the internet. Ah, well.

There is a draft that I have been writing around for more than a year now. It is the manuscript that I cheat on other manuscripts with. It's the thing that I set aside to draft The Lost Art of Killing Dreams. When one is revising, which is probably where I do the majority of the work, one forgets what drafting is like.

It's sloppy and messy and paint gets on the floor, all over your hands and clothes, and under your nails. There is a lot of clean up involved in revision. Not to mix metaphors, but drafting is all about constructing a frame. There's always a point for me where I realize the frame I've built doesn't fit the true shape of the story. One can outline and think they know what a story's about, but it's the writing—the mess-making and building—where one realizes that they were probably wrong.

About 50,000 words into anything, I start to see what the frame needs to be. There's always multiple things that I'm doing in a story, all the questions I'm answering and the talking points I want to discuss. But there's a moment when I realize the way to string all of them together. It is one of the moments of clarity where I identify what is "wrong" with the draft. (Beside that it's unfinished.)

The tricky thing about Eight for Wishing is that it started as its own thing, then it was a reluctant companion for The Tale of Ariake, and then I realized it was logically a sequel. It was this story that nestled around and wove between TALE; it was an alternate filter through which to view that world and its characters. But when you do a sequel, you need a chord that connects the stories together and reason for having it.

I was talking to a friend earlier about this draft, and I said there is a character a reader meets in TALE who has his shit relatively together in comparison to everybody else. He has some things he has to deal with and confront, but he's in a place where he can do that quite a bit easier than the other characters. And the question that I started asking when I returned to throwing words at this first draft of Eight for Wishing is Well, how did he get that way?

That lead to understanding that this second tale I'm trying to tell isn't an epic love story of two younger characters who exist on the edges of the first manuscript. No, it's an epic bromance between a character who barely features in the first story and a character who the reader thinks they know. Because there's a whole other life this character has that we don't see in the first story.

As for if this grand experiment will ever be read by anyone else, I don't even know. Its the follow-up to something on submission, which brings in a whole other set of additional reasons that it may never see mass consumption. But I don't really write first drafts because I want other people to read them. That's a second or third draft.

I write like an oil painting. Not the gossamer way of a Rembrandt, either. I mean a Van Gogh—all those textures and colors you see, that never quite dry and are never quite finished, are layered upon each other more and more and more until they form a cohesive image. Beneath them, painted over and over and over again remains the under-painting, but you have no idea what it looks like.

Honestly, that's a good thing. You don't want to read my rough drafts. They're a lot of vague shapes, mostly blocks of colors, and very flat.

I probably will never be a clean writer, with smooth transitions between draft. Fortunately, by the time other people see things, all those brushstrokes look like they're meant to be there.


Leigh Purtill said...

Love your metaphor for drafting - mixed or otherwise. I look at draft 1 as the first pass at a sculpture. It's the clay mold not the actual bronze itself. Yup, messy messy...

Lesliejm said...

I like reading your drafts, even if I'm slow to do it and really bad about remembering to give feedback to you.

I also liked your mixed metaphors. Van Gogh. Sweet.