19,204 words, this draft. A trend I’m not terribly fond of, I must admit. But at least the first draft of no. 30 is finally, finally done, though you should know that by “done” I don’t mean what I meant when I said the first draft of no. 29 was “done,” or no. 28 either, or nos. 27, 26, 25, et cetera, etcetera, for that matter.
A word, perhaps, about process? —The drafts I write are fairly polished: they begin where they’re going to begin, the end up where they’ll end up ending up, and they get there pretty much how they get there, sentences complete, dialogue neatly tied off, mostly, to a degree. I write them one word after another, start to finish, with very little skipping around, and for all that I like to imagine myself a fly-by-night, turn-on-a-dime, pants-seated improviser, the truth is I write to a pretty specific outline, one that’s pretty well fixed before I type the first word. It’s just not written down, really, beyond a simple list of scenes, usually just the names of key players, sometimes a location, or an action. Nothing more. I’ve already got the feel of the thing in my head, the weight of each scene, how it sits in the hand, a sort of synæsthetic proprioception that the list merely helps me keep straight. —Writing, then, largely consists of finding the actual-words-in-an-actual-sentence that will best fit to that inarticulable feel in the palm of my mind. (Helps to explain, perhaps, my meagre daily word counts: the fixed, unyielding goal is four hundred words a day: minuscule, perhaps, but enough to hypothetically complete a draft in a month; in terms of actual words set down in actual sentences, my average is south of two hundred words a day. Over the course of writing no. 30 alone, it fell from one hundred eighty three words or so a day to one hundred seventy words a day. —Another trend I do not like.)
Revision’s simple enough, then: each scene re-typed, descriptions rejiggered, reshuffled, removed (I tend to stick in too many to start, and all at the beginning); dialogue sanded and buffed, felicitized or awkwardified as needed; every now and then a scene’s shifted from here to there, or back again—the weight of actual words can sometimes warp a scene’s fit and feel to a whole new shape. Sometimes, a scene’s removed; sometimes, it’s replaced with something else entirely. The tyranny, of those actual words. —Then one more pass, to fit everything into the iron constraints of the 36-page ’zine format (me, a formalist! Who’ve thought), and a final proofing pass (not as thorough as could be, I’ll grant, but I get what I pay for), and we’re done and on to the next.
But this draft! This draft. (Fuck this draft.) The shapes of the scenes keep slipping through the fingers of my mind, and the actual words I end up with suddenly make the shape of what happens next taste impossibly foul. (I did say it was synæsthetic.) Whole scenes written down in this “done” draft are not what they will need to be, will have entirely different people doing and saying rather different things someplace else, or probably will, or should. I realized about halfway through I actually didn’t know why what was happening was happening, or rather I came to suspect that the verse I was singing was really the chorus, which knocked the whole foyer off-kilter. (Synæsthesia! Just run with it.) —Ordinarily, when I lose my footing like this, I dry up; I poke and poke; I run up daily counts in the dozens, the handfuls, the goose-eggs. I usually wipe out the scene in question and start again, fitting new words to the shape, or weighing the shape itself against the words. A few times I’ve gone right back to the start. But not this time; not this draft. The words never petered out, per se? I just kept stacking them, one actual, actually wrong word after another, and my outline’s lit up blinking red in my mind’s eye, every written scene notional post-its: adjust, cut, rejigger, rewrite from scratch, do something, please for the love of Christ. The last two scenes aren’t even scenes as such, just copious notes as to what ought to happen, if and when, the sort of thing I never do. Placeholders.
So. But still. Done. Or “done.” Or maybe the issue isn’t that word; maybe the issue is that when I say a “draft” of no. 30, I don’t mean the same thing I meant when I spoke of a “draft” of nos. 29, or 28, or 27…
(And of course it’s the next one, no. 31, that’s supposed to be the big showstopping heavy-hitter. This one was just supposed to move the pieces into place. Make certain character A gets to point B knowing fact C in time for event D, for various values of A and B and C, etc. —Like they say, theorists study strategy; professionals study logistics.)