Random excerpt from novel-in-progress: “Tina! No drowning the client!”
Novelist E.L. Doctorow famously compared the act of writing to driving a car at night: “You never see farther than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
That’s the best analogy I’ve encountered for the process of writing a first draft. You peer ahead as far as you can see (which isn’t very far), sometimes creeping along, sometimes going faster than you should. And you hope that you’re on the right road and still headed in the right direction. Sometimes you take an unplanned detour. But eventually, you arrive at your destination — even though it may not be exactly where you thought you were going.
And that’s why I like writing the second draft. For this trip through the story, I’m driving in daylight. And I’ve got a road map, thanks to that first draft. This time through, I can look around and see what the darkness obscured when I went down this road before, filling in details, adding some local color. Often, I can spot a more direct route to get from Point A to Point B.
Once I’ve written the first draft, I know what happens. I’ve got something to work with. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked as an editor, but I love rolling up my sleeves and getting to work shaping the story. To switch metaphors, it’s like I’ve got the picture all sketched out, and now I’m filling in details and colors. For me, the second draft is where a novel goes from being an idea to being a story.