My dream land of Haiden is a treacherous mistress indeed. With the fifth draft of my fantasy novel nearing completion, the road is paved for the sixth iteration to take wing. I sincerely wonder, and deeply pray, that this draft, draft six, will be the one that brings it to life.
The firstborn. It really is a tough one. One of the things I’ve learned about writing is it’s not all the freedom and beauty people talk about. Those are certainly very important parts of the artistic process, but there’s another side to writing. It is a side wrought with exhaustion, tedium and heartbreak.
It was high school when the idea first came. After way too many rounds of playing D&D at the homes of friends, that one nagging thought insisted on returning over and over and over again. There’s a really good story here and it needs to be told.
I, in what can only be described as a delusion of grandeur, wanted to make the ultimate fantasy, the sword and sorcery epic to end them all, and one that would re-define the conventions of the genre. I was 17 then, and at that age you think you’ll live forever. When you’re that young, it’s not a question if you’ll touch the sky, but how quickly you can get it done.
Outlining must have started when I was 18, though back then I knew little about three act structure, character development, or anything that makes a good piece of fiction worth the time of day for that matter. It was just set pieces of creative characters and situations that were of great personal fascination. Serious writing on it began some three years ago during my final few semesters of college.
Three years of writing. Jesus. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my firstborn. Think about all the emotions I wish for it to summon in those that read it, the same way the sagas of Indiana Jones, Ellen Ripley, and others had whisked me away to far away places of dreams and nightmares both. Now the dreams and nightmares were mine to share.
By the third draft I was certain it was done. By the 4th I was more certain still. Then the fifth draft came, and with each stroke of the keyboard that certainty slowly ebbed away. My editor, bless her for her amazing work, pointed out all the flaws, flaws which I’d sworn with the utmost certainty I wouldn’t commit. And they were everywhere, tumors polluting the skin of my beloved child whom so many friends had invested so many hours in just on the off chance it might be successful.
Looking at the manuscript pound in pixels and light was once exactly what it was supposed to be, a lively experience of adventure and excitement. Now the excitement gives way to confusion. It’s like watching a caged animal begging for freedom, and neither where the cage is or the keys to unlock it.
Editing is humbling and painful. There are the times when an idea will come that outshines an old one, and those moments are plentiful in quantity and enjoyability. But it doesn’t spare you the tedium. You look over the same words, day after day, knowing that the words are cold and dead and trying to type a little life into them. When that doesn’t work you just stare, hoping somehow that will make the letters do their dance.
It’s an exercise that is depressing and exhilarating both. The frequency with which both rear their ugly heads makes it hard to tell if you’ve had a good day or a bad one.
I’ve gone on that trip through this book some four times since the completion of the original draft. It hasn’t been without its fruits. The story is now well structured, with all the peaks and valleys chiseled in, but it’s still rough, and still needs a polish to work it up to a fine mirror shine.
But damn it all if I don’t know just what kind of wax to use.
Dreaming up stories and characters really is one of the few practical skills I possess, but the dreaming business is a difficult one to get to get your foot in the door. I’ve learned these past few years that it takes more than dreams to survive in this world.
Another round of beating this manuscript for another few months, hoping it will come to life is not high on my list of favorite activities, even though this manuscript, for all the ills it has wrought, is one of my favorite things.