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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

draft 1 inches forward

This morning I pushed through and finished drafting chapter 25. I sent a copy of it by e-mail to Warren in Chicago as proof that the cosmic heart-paddles have indeed reanimated this creative corpse.

Ernest Hemingway is supposed to have said, "The first draft of anything is shit." As far as I can tell, he seems to be right. That's not to say that the first draft of everything is equally bad; far from it. I think that the first draft, like any other stage, reflects the amount of work that's gone into it. But it also reflects the amount of work left to be done, and, depending on how much of that there is, this is the measure of its "badness".

I think what's disappointing about the first draft is what I might call the quality per hours invested. Draft 1 is disheartening because it represents the largest quantum of effort in any project, and therefore causes one's hopes to soar. The result, I find, is, at least after the first exhilaration of finishing, always disappointing. One hopes that after all that work something more polished, more sensible, more readable, would have emerged. Nope.

For draft 1, the best strategy--if you can do it--is to switch off the quality indicator of your mental dashboard altogether and pay attention only to the quantity indicator. Even this is relatively disappointing compared to the much faster progress--page throughput--one can achieve in the second and subsequent drafts, but there is the miracle of creation: the fact that you started with nothing, and now have something. Even if we can't follow God and say that it's good, at least we can say that now it is.

I've decided to start printing hard copies of each first-draft chapter again. I left off doing this back around chapter 13, when I stopped reading them out loud to Kimmie when I'd done them. Now, partly out of concern after reading The Revenge of Gaia and James Lovelock's warning of how all our electronic documents will vanish with the collapse of industrial civilization (which he foresees this century if we do not act swiftly and vigorously to ameliorate climate change), I want to have a hard copy. Toward this end I bought a couple of plastic hanging-file boxes at Wal-Mart last week, and am setting them up to receive all my extant chapters.

Today Kimmie and I are planning to be virtuous and power-walk (in the cold rain). That means I need to get into my research reading early, and that means I need to get going. Which books, you ask? These days it's been An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament by Oesterley and Robinson; Principles of Psychology vol. 1 by William James; A History of Greece to 322 BC by N.G.L. Hammond; then, if I've got time and energy, The Earth System by Kump, Kasting, and Crane.

Off I go.


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