Second Draft Terrors

If novel writing is a marathon, then my first draft was running a marathon after years of working on short sprints. In other words, it was exhausting. I don’t know how I did it. Except now I am rewriting the whole thing and have to do it all over again.

Is it any wonder I avoided my second draft for months?

I’m afraid of the work. I’m afraid I am lazy. I’m afraid I am really a short-fiction writer with delusions of novel-writing. I’m afraid that after I write this entire draft I will have to find the fortitude to re-write the entire thing again. I’m afraid I won’t find it.

I’m afraid it all sucks. I am likewise afraid that I am writing something good and not good enough to live up to the task of doing it. I’m afraid that I bit off more than I can chew. I’m afraid that it will be too short because there’s not enough there. I’m afraid I’m not as over my revise-o-phobia as I thought. I’m afraid I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t have the mental will to stubbornly do it anyway.

I’m afraid that my own newfound impatience with other writers for having fears is really impatience with myself. GETOVERIT, Sonal. Write anyway.

I’m afraid that everything I have written here about getting past fear and writing in spite of it reveals me to be a fraud.

I’m afraid that if I don’t get this draft done for my thesis deadline I will be THAT student, and I am also afraid that once I am out of this MFA I will never be able to write anything this long again because there is no deadline pressure or fear of being THAT student. I’m afraid that left to my own devices I will write jack shit.

I’m afraid that my life is too chaotic right now for me to be doing this. I’m afraid that my life will never be less chaotic. I’m afraid that the things I say about the chaos of my life are a weak excuse for not writing because somehow I still find it in me to keep up with Masterchef.

I’m afraid I like discipline. Scratch that, I know I lack discipline. I’m afraid I won’t be able to develop enough to really be a writer.

I’m afraid I’m not really a writer. (There’s a fear I haven’t felt in a while.) I’m afraid I’m just playing at this.

I’m afraid there is no point in talking about any of this because everyone has those fears including the people who write fifteen drafts per novel. (Bastards!)

I’m afraid that I already know better than to get mired up in fear. I’m afraid that I’ve been giving lip service to courage all this time because deep down inside I just don’t have the guts. I’m afraid I’m all talk, no writing. I’m afraid all the magic courage fairy is not coming for me because there is no magic courage fairy.

I’m afraid I should be writing my book instead of this blog.

I’m not crazy, I’m a writer.

Last night, my play had a public staged reading. People I didn’t know paid money to come and hear my work. They even laughed. It’s a comedy, so that was a relief.

Watching your work being read is slightly surreal. My writing process is often very auditory; sometimes I feel like I am simply transcribing the voices I hear. So when other people embody that and turn this into something other people can hear too… as I said, surreal. It’s not just me anymore.

What’s fascinating is how much evolves when someone else engages the work.

We all know that readers, or in this case the audience, comes in with their own baggage.  Fiction writers can largely pretend that this doesn’t happen, unless they are presented with reviews or reader questions. But playwrights have to confront this reality; the work is not solely yours. It gets filtered through so many other people. Sometimes it’s surprising how different it ends up after the idea has gone on its long transition from writer to audience.

And yet, it’s also surprising that despite these evolutions, how much gets through exactly as it was in my head.

As writers, sometimes we can get obsessive over what the reader thinks, that they didn’t quite engage the work precisely the way we did. We turn into control freaks about it, turning it over in our minds trying to figure out what went wrong. Because we love the way we came into the work–why else write it? And we start to wonder, was it me? Did I not write this right? Do I need to pile in more words so that every reader gets it the way I want it to be? How can I make this so that everyone loves the work and my characters as much as I love them?

That’s where we have to stop.

Sure, it’s awesome when someone connects to your work. But what I see now is that there comes a point where the work is not mine. And it shouldn’t be.

Playwriting, fiction, poetry…. the reader will always bring their own stuff to the work and it will evolve into something else. Our job is not to dictate the reader’s experience, not to force them to accept a singular vision of the world we wrote, not to force them down narrow pathways with our words and hold the leash tight so they can’t go anywhere with it. We simply create the world and leave the rest to them.  No one loves a regimented march the way they love a place that got to know and explore on their own terms.

As writers, we craft the cup. The reader pours in the liquid. As it always was, as it always should be.

I’ll drink to that.