“The first draft of everything is shit”…

Light at the end of the tunnel?

There comes a time in any book’s gestation when everything that will come together has already come together, where the hours have been put in and, as an unpublished author, you can sense the invisible finish-line in your bones. Thanks to Unpublished Novel #1, I recognise this moment: I realise where I am.

Unpublished Novel #2 has been full of surprises. Over the last four years I’ve had about five very good ideas (which remain bubbling away and will, hopefully, ultimately result in novels). Like UN#1 they were premised on heavy, complicated ‘idea’ ideas. There were central characters struggling with a moral  conundrum that encapsulated the spirit of their respective ages and I, exhausted, depleted and demoralised, couldn’t even contemplate the weight of work necessary to simply begin.

On an unspectacular day, Wife and I had an unspectacular fight. I did what I always do: I scrambled for my pre-packed rucksack and headed out the door. On a park-bench in Gan Meir, I took out my notebook and whatever pen was inked that day and began to write – just write – about someone like me but not me who existed in that exactly same moment, in exactly the same circumstances. As I wrote, our lives diverged and as I kept writing, a cast of characters emerged and developed, a story took root and, three weeks later, I had 30,000 words (just under half a novel) and a narrative at once complete and crying out for elaboration and exploration from a different angle.

The only problem: I didn’t know how.

I understood that this book had become about more than I had originally intended (if I had intended anything at all): it was about Tel-Aviv, about Israel, about youth and social insecurity and inequality, about racism and class and family and life and love. But as I thought about the unwritten second half, I couldn’t seem to find a way to plunge deeper, to unfurl more of the tapestry and scrape away at the layers of dirt and grime that clouded… it.

I wrote about seven different first chapters for part two and none of them were any good. While the first half came in three blinding fevered weeks, three-quarters of part two has taken me many, many months. It was hard work; harder work even than UN#1, for there at least I had a narrative arc I wished to adhere to.

But as I was giving up Sufi got ill and finally died, and Mitt Romney took the sexual politics debate to really nasty places and I finally understood what constituted the dish and what was the garnish. This was a book about the inclusive ‘everything’ of life here, yes, but it was primarily about hopes and about expectations – the characters of themselves and of others and of the world – and, of course, the consequential weight of the inevitable loss.

I write by hand with a fountain pen and a notebook. After I’ve begun, I don’t re-read a single word until I’m done. I just push on. But now that I am closer to the end than the beginning, I am charging my laptop and preparing for the sense of disappointment that comes with the first sight of the complete work. As Hemingway said: “the first draft of everything is shit.”

Shit, yes, but also the first opportunity to see not what you think you’ve created, but what you actually have. It’s a daunting moment, undoubtedly. But that’s got to be exciting, right?

One Comment on ““The first draft of everything is shit”…

  1. Pingback: Of hacks and hopes. (On getting a professional edit.) | UnpublishedInTelAviv

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