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Entries in rough drafts (3)


Week Eight progress: So it turns out that I'm crazy

Writing is hard.

I have been plugging away at, as promised, a short tale involving a major character from a fantasy series I may or may not ever write. Trying to find both character and world when you haven't decided much about either has proven to be... well... a challenge. Here, for example, is the first paragrah of the rough draft:

When she was much younger — a child of four or five — Kyra had been, actually, a princess. Not the princess, of course: that was [Name] of [Name], the only daughter of [Name], who had been king over [Name] most of his long life. His passing took Kyra and her family out of the line of succession. Used to be they received an allowance from the crown each year (“a stipend,” her mother called it… it was an allowance, Kyra knew now; just enough coin to keep them and several other small houses just like theirs from raising a small army and pressing their rights), but that all ended with King [Name]. Because of the [Treaty of Something] drawn during the [Times of Somesuch], a rival family was able to assert their claim to the throne and, in so doing, force Kyra’s parents to learn a trade and spend the rest of their noble lives working for their stipends. 

Likewise, I find myself having to ponder currency, how townsfolk aquire their water, whether or not there is a town guard and why, etc. etc. And then I have to stop myself from stopping, and just throw in a placeholder for the sake of not losing momentum. But the story is at a place now where all these decisions I have delayed will actually inform what the protagonist can do, and I've felt overwhelmed and stuck. 

So a few nights ago I decided that I hated the story, hated the world, hated having to write in a setting I don't know yet. The next morning I talked with my girlfriend about making it more modern — transposing everything into our world or something very similar to it. This seemed appealing. Then, in the shower, I resolved to just finish the tale I'm writing right now, post it to this blog, and move on to shorter things until I'm actually ready to attempt a larger work. Maybe just focus on writing plays since that seems to come easier for me?

And then, during my lunch break, I re-read everything I've written in my story to date and kind of... liked it...? And I figured out what happens next — a quick way to keep the story moving and avoid getting stuck in procedural.

And now, after having read one-half of the first draft, littered as it is with placeholders and weird dead ends, I'm thinking that I need to stop thinking so much, that what I'm writing — though the words are not coming easily — is actually going somewhere and I should just surrender myself to that. 

So that's what I'm at. And because I don't want to limit your first impression of this story to "[Name] of [Name], the only daughter of [Name], who had been king over [Name]," here is the following paragraph:

Her mother took it hardest, and never ceased instructing Kyra in courtly manner, even years after her first blood, though of course there was no point anymore to heraldry, to curtseys, to being coy and demure. They were commoners now — even before they were “deposed” (again, her mother’s words), their claim was not the strongest. Kyra never was going to sit on that throne; now it was just official. Her father took soon thereafter to the bottle with great enthusiasm, squandering whatever royal savings they had on wine and wenches. Gambling, too. One night he must have taken his chances on a game he couldn’t afford, because the next morning Kyra and her mother found him at the door, cold, his throat sawed open.

Consider yourself teased.


Writing advice from David Rakhoff

Speaking of rough drafts...

Recently deceased This American Life contributor David Rakoff on the dubious joys of the first draft:

Writing—I can really only speak to writing here—always, always only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever). Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw, ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food.

(From his latest book Half Empty, which I have just requested from the library.)


Week Seven: Rough draft completed!

You heard it here first.

For me, squeezing out that first rough draft is an ongoing struggle wherein I promise myself over and over that I'll go back and revise all the suck out of it, if I can just please oh please relax and write the damn thing.

And then, later, I'll find that I don't have anything too major to revise, because the rough draft wasn't actually so horrible after all.

Is it that the writerly skills I've honed over the years are all in my arsenal even when I'm giving myself permission to write poo (and so the poo does not stink quite so much as it might have, say, ten years ago), or it is more that the words on the page have a permanence or inevitability to them now that they're real, and to throw them out feels like wanton destruction?

Maybe both? Discuss.