On the Tender Care of Early Ideas

TurtleHow’s your writing coming?

Oh, just fine, more or less, in a savage kind of way.

I know it doesn’t make much sense to talk about writing the sequel to The Vault of Dreamers when the first book isn’t even published yet, but such is the timetable of publishing that I am now writing the first draft of Book 2, and it reminds me so much of the first draft of Book 1 that I’ll use that as my excuse for bringing it up.

First drafts for me are ridiculous. They’re daunting, far-fetched messes of ideas that make little sense, and I plunge onward writing pages even as I know that the pages will almost certainly get cut. It’s an exercise in the absurd, like mowing grass backwards, or spreading peanut butter on a roof. Making myself work this way while my logical mind revolts is maddening. It doesn’t feel creative or fun or fruitful at all. It’s idiocy. Characters show up for a few pages and then disappear. Scenes materialize complete with toxic smells and then are replaced by elevator rides or fountains. I gather that I need to move a character to another country, but to get her there I have to imagine an airport and a jet and a pilot, all of which have their tangential problems. I look up one definition, and it takes me to how twin marmosets swap genes before they’re born. And this matters. This marmoset fact is relevant info I need to understand and use.

Torturous and circuitous as this process sounds, it serves as the first discovery stage of my novel. Wrong directions are a necessary part of the project, so I give myself permission to follow them. I remind myself that I didn’t discover key conflicts in Prized until draft 8. The Vault of Dreamers went through 16 drafts before it became right. The point is, I have to accept the way I generate ideas. I don’t have to like it. I certainly don’t have to recommend it. But I have to accept that this confusing, shoddy morass is normal for me. It’s not a final draft: it’s a beginning, and it deserves my tender care.

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