You sit back from your desk, scarcely aware of your aching fingers or bloodshot eyes, captivated by those last two words scrawled/typed on the page/screen in front of you: The End.
Months have gone by since you first sat down to that snow-white blanket of blank pages — years, maybe. Blood, sweat and tears had just been the start; over all that time you’ve been sucked dry, day after day, furiously scribbling/typing away amidst spirited bouts of maniacal hair-pulling and nonsensical mutterings.
Maybe once or twice you descended into an emotionless trance, or suddenly realised that you had no recollection whatsoever of your last holiday when the photographs were posted online — the ones in which you appear only fleetingly in each, half-obscured by shadow, bent double over a notebook, pen in hand.
Maybe once or twice you scared your entire family half to death when you suddenly erupted into stentorious laughter at two o’clock in the morning — remember, when the breakthrough with that plaguing plot issue suddenly came to you, clear as say; just clicked into place?
You’ve lost weight. Or gained some. Maybe a lot. You’ve become so addicted to caffeine that your dreams of winning the lottery have been supplanted by fantasies of ‘accidentally’ being locked in a Costa Depot overnight. You’ve missed birthday parties; lied about appointments to get home and jot down a few ideas; neglected loved ones; missed entire seasons of your favourite television programme. You scarcely recognise the music floating from the radio.
But that’s alright. It’s all behind you now. The hard part’s over. Right?
Not a chance.
What lies ahead dwarfs the struggles of even your driest writing session. First Draft season has ended; Editing season has begun.
Just when you thought you’d settled into a groove and got a handle on the business of writing (or learned something new on your latest journey, in the case of a more seasoned scribe), you’re tasked with something that couldn’t be more different or downright uncreative.
Gone are the days of inspiration and bouts of spontaneous scribbling upon the backs of napkins and the steamed-up shower door. Your days will, at least for the next few months, be spent doubled over your desk, the fingers of one hand tangled into your unsettling shock of uncut hair and those of the other grasping your new best friend: the Big Red Pen (or the digital equivalent).
But, of course, this time is just as vital as the writing itself; just as integral to the process of dredging a serviceable nugget on novel from the nether regions of oblivion.
This is for one reason, and one reason alone: blue moons and soaring pigs may seldom grace our reality with their presence, but they are infinitely more common than a first draft that doesn’t, on inspection, make its creator want to tear our their own eyes and wilt into the ground. First drafts are ragged, ugly freakeries, which writers keep chained up in their attics and feed hunks of rotting ham once a week, too afraid to even let the family anywhere near, lest they be forever marked by its evil.
But that’s alright; it’s just a stepping stone on the way to something much greater, and it’s definitely better than nothing. Try to remember that when you first look upon it in the harsh light of day.
Then take the plunge. Never mind the natural creases inherent to the creative process–the misspellings, the metamorphic character names and traits, the blinding grammatical blunders, or the great gulfs in continuity–and just start scratching away. And be brutal. Yes, that flashback may seem chock-full with mellifluous prose and took you a whole week to crank out, but does it belong in this story? No? Out it goes. No buts. Gone. Cut. Delete.
After a painful couple of weeks’ worth of culling and course-correction, you’ll have a Second Draft. It’s not quite so raw now, not quite so obviously diseased. You remove its shackles and take it down from the attic for a walk in the garden sometimes (under the cover of darkness, of course). Maybe now you’ll consider tentatively handing it out to friends and family.
But there’s still a long way to go, so you shut it back in the attic and go to work with the surgeon’s scalpel once more. Every aspect of your work will be ridiculed, snipped, broken and reset. The reality of your precious creation now being a commercial product instead of a mere piece of art may at times depress or disgust you. One moment a chapter may seem streamlined to nigh-perfection; the next it may seem little more than a steaming pile of rotten faeces.
But you keep at it. Red Ink flies, critiques and feedback starts rolling in, and something that resembles your true vision begins to take shape.
You take advice, revise; take some more advice and throw it in a drawer for a fortnight; take it out and revise again. You’ve gotten rid of the shackles and let it play with the other manuscripts down the street now — you’re even thinking about giving it its own room. More revision, more criticism. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
And some day soon, that sacred final draft will condense into existence, which can then be unleashed upon the world, and you can finally pack away your notes with conviction.
Then, and only then, will you be finished. Only then will you have cleared the last hurdle.
Only then, finally, can you run headlong into the depths of oblivion once more, setting out on another brave voyage into the unknown.
But until then, fellow writer, get your arse back to work.