Writer RELAX: this is (probably) not the final draft

I keep forgetting this is not the end of the world: there will be more time.*

[*This is another milestone: Post #300.]

Last draft? Probably not.

I just performed the beautiful action of sending the first n drafts off to Recycling. A banker’s box, brown, full to the brim of earlier paper drafts of Pride’s Children (or as it has been known, Children of Pride – and before that, Resurrection!).

I had told myself they were of historical significance for my biographer. Until I realized that meant my biographer would see and maybe READ my early drafts. Ack!

The writer’s best trait is stubbornness.

You can be nice. Call it persistence, its name in polite society. Its MALE name.

Most people are incapable of making their work better. Am I most people? Anything is better than those early drafts. I am most assuredly glad they are gone. They were shudderingly… well, not bad. Shall we say, not good?

Grammatically correct. With few typos or spelling errors. I’ve always been good at the mechanics.

But wooden. Awkward. Scanty when they should be full; verbose when they should be taut.

Not as good as I can produce now, with 19 years of actual practice since that one-and-only class at the community college for 8 Monday nights led to the first finished novel. A while back. 1995.

Old enough now that if I revamp it, it has become a historical mystery set in the Cold War. Hmmm.

Arrogance, thy name is writer.

I have spent my life becoming the person who can write this story.

Every book I read in the past 60+ years has contributed to the writer – of THIS story.

Every WORD I’ve read. Written.

Writing of poetical prose.

Is it permissible for a great poet to leave his dirty underwear on the floor, discarded as he pursues a lofty thought?


A minor poet?

Very much less maybe.

A horrible poet?

No – but who tells him his awkward, rhyming doggerel is not poetry?

By the time he is capable of seeing how bad a poet he is, he is already a much better poet.

We all think: if only I were waited on hand and foot, what poetry I could write!

Most of us are wrong.

I must be right.

It is a beautiful thing, the human ego.

It keeps us trying.

Some of us will become better poets.

Otherness in the writer.

Nothing we ‘know’ is true.

Nobody waited hand-and-foot enough on Flannery O’Connor to let her write. There is no enough. Her mother barely made it possible for her to try.

If I were someone else, I would have more admiration for me. As it is, I live with ‘me’ – and I know myself too well for admiration.

Unless it is for stubbornness. I grant you that: I am amazingly stubborn.

I don’t apologize for it – I didn’t create it in me. It came with the package. You could have asked my mother. She would have told you.

My mind batters itself against the walls of my skull, trying to get out.

Relax, I tell it. There is time. Take the time. Give it the space and time it needs.

Stop needing so hard to be finished, and need more to get it right. Somehow right.

Process. Trust Process. Writing around the writing.

If thousands of words must be written around the writing of the scene, sussing out what the scene must mean, layering in what the scene must have – for your value of ‘must’ – let them be written.

Well over 4000 yesterday – without a word ending up in the scene. But 4000 closer to some dimly-sensed point.

And today, the reason for my giddiness: a 2000-word scene. Done. Finished. Polished. Not bad. Probably the most critical one in the book. But then I always say that.

I know what I’m aiming for, vaguely. I know it when I see it. I cannot, however, get it out of my head sprung fully-formed as from the forehead of Zeus. It doesn’t work that way for me. (I cannot see how it would work for anyone, but that’s not your problem; it’s mine.)

I have to write all the possible bits of scene, and dig until there is oil sprouting from the ground, before I can write fiction. My CFS brain fog will not allow me to do this INSIDE my head, so I outsource it.

In this complete front-to-back revision that has been going on for a long time, I rarely need to go back once a scene is finished. I don’t know if that’s the blinders necessary to go forward, or that arrogance, or exhaustion. It doesn’t matter.

This IS the last draft/this is NOT the last draft.

I have a huge list of full-book corrections/inconsistencies to check/adjustments – stored neatly in a file so they won’t bedevil the present.

Every text file for every scene in the twenty chapters of Book 1 is in a different format. In Scrivener, TextEdit, Word, and .pdf.

Formatting on Wattpad is even more restrictive than formatting on WordPress. I have found a way – not my favorite way, but a way – around each formatting problem as I’ve posted the scenes; there will be a reckoning.

Meanwhile, I joke to myself that it will make any plagiarism instantly recognizable.

I try things out as I go, but I do not retrofit – that would cause the remaining brain parts to explode. Scrivener will clean it all up for me. I will start the NEXT novel clean, I promise myself.

I can clean it up – with a bit of effort.

It is the blessing of the modern world: no typist will have to retype my messes in a single format – and be given endless opportunities to introduce new errors I would never have made. The errors will be my own.

The ideal situation: full authority to go with full responsibility.

Scary as hell.

Especially when you have tried something as long and complex as my mess. My ms.? Onomatopoeic?

Sidetracked near THE END.

Better lost in your own untrammeled wilderness than in the wilds of the web.

Getting sidetracked is fun – and easier than writing.

And easy to justify.

And a better use of my time – there may be some ultimate reward in it, some idea or skill my writing needs – than surfing the web, looking for other people’s work to trigger my balky mind.

The books I read again while sidetracked are orderly, organized, with tables of contents and indices, headers and footers, and exercises at the end. Because I pay for them – and buy exactly what I need now.

Must keep trying – in the midst of Life – to ‘live an orderly life, so that the work can get done.’ Cary Tennis says that’s the most heroic thing a creative person can do. It’s true.

I rarely feel heroic.

But I know how sluggish I get when I get off the very narrow track that lets me put black words on white.

I know I’m getting near an end because all this thrashing about is in the service of making sure all the bits get tied properly into the package, stray bits tucked in – hospital corner-like, wrapped in shiny paper with a bow.

Obsessively checking the books, the notes, the hand-written journals – have I considered everything that NEEDS to be here? If I don’t write it down, I’m terrified it will get lost.

Do it again. Does it still scan?

When I’m done, it will lie as sleek and smooth as a stuffed snake.

Do tell what you think.


5 thoughts on “Writer RELAX: this is (probably) not the final draft

  1. Lily White LeFevre

    “if i were someone else i’d be more impressed with me…”

    Ah, lady, story of my life in terms of self-perception (not just about writing, but that, too). This is why we form mutual admiration societies. 🙂


  2. kyrahalland

    I always save my early, marked-up drafts and revision notes in case of plagiarism/being accused of plagiarism, so I can prove my work and its progress.

    I also love the idea of “full authority to go with full responsibility”.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Gak! Hadn’t thought to save them to prove original authorship and timing of ideas. Hmmm. Will have to go see if that box actually got taken out to Recycling. It MIGHT still be in the garage?

      My writing partner has read along for almost the whole time, and I have beaucoup notebooks in my handwriting dating back that far, and all the supporting documentation (tons), and the computer files…

      Besides, anyone who plagiarizes my early writing gets what she deserves. The amount of work that stuff needed!

      Thanks for commenting, Kyra.

      Ask anyone: if you don’t have the authority to change things for which you have responsibility, you are in a state similar to that which is labeled by psychiatrists as ‘learned helplessness.’ Not good. Middle managers are under chronic stress because of it. And traditionally published mid-list authors.



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