If a draft is written in a hotel lobby, and nobody is around to read it, does it really exist?
I have been working on a chapter book since February 2015. The current iteration is "New Revisions 34." I don't know how many "Old Revisions" there were, but I do know that the new revisions started after I had named a file "August Adelaide's How to Make a Friend FINAL FINAL." Clearly it was not.
Most of those drafts have never been read by anyone other than me. I don't like people seeing my work until I've read through it without making any edits. Then they mark it up in red and I start over. It’s crazy and endless. It's write and rewrite and think about it in the shower and in the car, and then start it all over again.
But why so many rewrites? What is missing? Why have I deemed the 33 previous versions not good enough? Why haven’t I written “FINAL FINAL FINAL” yet? When I realized I didn’t have the answer, I sort of broke down. I stopped attending local writing groups. I stopped participating in the online writing community. After a couple weeks, I stopped writing.
I’ve heard this comparison that writers are like sharks. It’s thought that if a shark stops swimming, it will die. Likewise, if a writer stops writing, he or she will die. But it felt more like losing a friend. Like someone you’ve come to expect to be there day in and day out and then suddenly they aren’t.
Fast forward. I dragged myself to a writing conference—Write on the Red Cedar. It was great last year, I knew it was going to be great this year, but I hadn’t written more than a few words in a few months. Did I really belong at a writing conference? A voice told me that I did not. I recognized it as the same voice that tells me I’ll never make it. But then I saw people I hadn’t seen in months. I conversed with them and it drowned that other voice out. Sure I sat at the table in the back of the room, but I was surrounded by writers. I was surrounded by my people.
And Michael Hauge was there. He taught us about emotion and conflict and structure. About a journey of transformation and inner motivation. I’ve heard of these things. I’m familiar with the hero’s journey. But I had always assumed it was better suited for an epic storyline like Star Wars. Then Michael showed us clips from Pixar’s Up and outlined Carl’s journey. That’s when I realized that part of August’s journey was missing. I left the talk. I sat down in the hotel lobby and I wrote. “How to Make a Friend FINAL Revision 1” was born.
If a draft is written in a hotel lobby, and nobody is around to read it, does it really exist? Will the first 20 minutes of Up have you crying like a baby? The answer to both questions is yes. Each draft lives on in its successor, getting better and better and better if only a little bit at a time. Anybody who works persistently at something knows this. Sometimes it takes a conversation with a friend to remind us. Sometimes it takes an 8 hour workshop with a Hollywood screenplay consultant. Whatever it takes, find it.
Nick is an author and an illustrator who has self-published two picture books. He illustrated The Great Big Scary Monster (by Saraya Evenson) and wrote and illustrated Sloth VS Turtle. Nick is currently working on a chapter book about an introvert, a robot, and the struggle of making a friend. Learn more at http://www.twomonsterbooks.com/
Coming up on the Mitten blog: Interviews, interviews, interviews: a Michigan indie bookstore and a superstar librarian, teacher, and blogger. Plus, takeaways and congrats from the annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York.