First Drafts

A first draft is a funny thing.  A stack of questions waiting to be answered.  Seven thousand, one hundred twenty lines to be reviewed with patience you don’t have.  Words to be heard aloud, doubted like a thief walking through your favorite room, turned over in the mind, changed for something tighter, or left alone like that one lavender flower growing in a field of green.

All the judgment sits in that pile of paper.  You see it differently when it’s paper.  As a file it’s just like anything else on that tap tap tap laptop.  It’s something in a screen.  It’s real but still less real.  When it’s printed, it zips across your all-in-one and each scrimp of the printer is a question and a hope and a prayer about you taking every letter to the next level.  The articles, verbs, and characters join together into a choir, one you love and hate.  They sing to you as the printer forms their melody in the faint, terrible background.  You’re enchanted and afraid of their music.

Lift the language.  Tighten the plot.  Excise the unnecessary.  Describe.  Take your time.  Strengthen the dialogue.  Add this scene.  Delete that.  Say it better.  They sing things like that, and their collective voice takes the tone of a friend.  Their instructions and encouragements collapse the way jazz does, unexpected and delightful.  Go.  See.  Soar.

You wait because you gave yourself a waiting period.  A break.  It’s helpful even if it claims the three ounces of sanity you think you still have.  You hate waiting, at least, for the work of revision.  You remember that conference workshop where the presenter said revision was seeing again, looking again, searching again.  And her broad smile finds you while you wait. She was a white woman, her face plumped like the rest of her body.  She wore red and, though red was a color for fire and heat and summer, you imagined her cool as stood at the podium to speak.  She was joyous as she spoke.  Joy was calming, cool.  Joy was the collection of possessing your words and your characters and your vision for the story.  You thought of her as you waited because her coolness was what you needed while you watched that stack, the pile with 96,504 expectations.  Each word commanding to be the best.

You got tired thinking of those words.  You cherished them.  But they made you a little sick.  You wanted time to pass before you saw them.  Even when you clicked the manuscript open, you couldn’t read.  You saw the blur of that first page and closed it quickly.  The X from Microsoft Word pressed into your mind.  There would be enough time to do what needed to be done.  It just wouldn’t be now.

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