By now, the chapter is like my home; I live within it and it within me. I cannot help but feel safe there. I know the angle of every corner and the height of each window frame. The feel of the carpets on my toes.
The first twenty-seven versions, I built up good walls, a ceiling, a fireplace, and stairs to the second floor. Skylights. Every time I read it again, I add to the scaffolding, sometimes one word at a time; sometimes by great swath.
It could be worse; I could have a useless stack of 2x4s. On the other hand, then I wouldn’t feel compelled to decorate.
The last fifty times I’ve reviewed the first draft, I have inserted, removed, and—more often than not—read right past dozens of notations like:
I am a master of the —XXXX—, but not a master of filling in the blanks.
Any number of “suggestions” are made to writers about drafting:
- Write the first draft as fast as you can.
- Don’t stop to edit.
- Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft.
To some extent, I believe these tropes. If I judged my work by the first round of storytelling, I would remain a technical writer the rest of my days. This is why I use the aforementioned notations. I can’t stop to look up which flowers might bloom in England in February when I have a character to develop or a plot line to perfect, but I know, ultimately, crocuses will help with both timeline and setting.
The problem occurs later on, once I know my hero has blond hair and green eyes, and I can no longer rely on —FLORA— to fill the space.
Then, I stare. Again and again. I could easily do a Google search for “Flowers UK February,” but it is more fun to look for typos in the material I’ve already written, which will likely change in future drafts anyway.
I say: I am stuck. What I mean is: I am lazy.
I say: I don’t have time for serious research. What I mean is: I’d rather do just about anything than look up the type of fabric used for working-class clothes in 1820.
I say: I need to write a blog post. What I mean is: Maybe if I write a blog post, I won’t need to let go of this shitty first draft.
For that is the crux of the issue. No one wants to invite an inspector out in the middle of construction. However, at every stage of building, one is forced to ask approval for plumbing, electrical, insulation, and so on. The structure needs to be evaluated by other professionals.
So rather than fill in ten blanks and make the phone call to a critique partner or beta reader, I stare.
- I measure the distance between London and Dover for the fourteenth time, then once again calculate the hours it would take to travel there by coach-and-four. Then on horseback. Then by riverboat.
- I open Facebook and Twitter and update my Amazon author page.
- I make a list of all the places I might go to discover when King George IV took his first trip to Scotland, starting with a completely unnecessary, totally impossible trip to Scotland, and ending with a promise to myself to look it up later.
- I wonder if today might be a good day to bake bread.
- I decide my hero’s eyes really should be blue, not green, requiring a search for every mention of his handsome face. Then, I wonder if his coat in chapter 6 should match his eyes, and whether his hair really should be cut short.
- I write a blog post.
- I poke at the first —XXXX— to see if it will bite, and when it doesn’t, I leave it and move on to poke at the next.
I read chapter 21 the seventy-eighth time.