I often reach a point in my book where I think this is it. This is a point.
I announce it to myself and to my friends and family. I say: I reached this point. Then I return to my work after a well-deserved break and I read back before the point and I wonder what I was thinking. There was no point I reached. I just stopped and I called it a point.
Drafts are some points I use. They pat me on the back and allow me to feel I am a whole version ahead of myself a few months ago. Little do my drafts know, I am still me, my book is still the same book; it is just an older version of itself, an older draft, maybe a wiser draft.
That isn’t always a good thing. Like myself, like all of us, drafts have egos. My latest draft – haughty Draft Five – thinks it’s light years ahead of Draft 4. It even spelt out its name in letters. It recognizes that it still has terrible flaws, but it sees itself as simpler, less blah-blah than its predecessor (it used that word: blah-blah). Draft Five actually attacked Draft 4 quite aggressively: it tore out adjectives and adverbs, changed the narrator from first to third person and cut out what it called “superfluous” scenes.
But what Draft Five doesn’t know is that Draft Six will soon exist. I will reach the end of Draft Five (which corresponds with the physical end of the book) and I will proclaim myself done with it. I will drop it somewhere and cease to think about it for a short while. I will show it off to people (its first page will get fingered but never read) and I will probably advertise its existence on here. Then Draft Six will commence and I will forget everything I learnt in Draft Five.
Draft Six will ax this and stomp on that. It will stick its nose up at Draft Five’s choice of this word and this scene and it might even communicate with Draft 4 behind Five’s back. Draft Six will be a new reincarnation of my book, but without learning from Draft Five, will it really be any better?
Michael Ondaatje is said to write a book straight through and then put it in a drawer and write the book again and do this same process over and over until he has written his book nine or ten times. Now, if this is true, then Ondaatje has created a perfect system for himself: every few months he gets to tell people he wrote a book. But does it work?
Do we learn, when we get to one point and then we jump to another, without worrying about the point (or the journey) that came before? Do we become wiser just by writing, and by rewriting?
I hope so, because every time I write a sentence I want to feel like I’ve finished a sentence. Every time I write a chapter, or a draft, I want to feel like I’ve completed something. Writing is hard enough without being hard on ourselves.
So here it goes: I just wrote Part One of Draft Five and it is far superior to anything I have ever written. Take that, wretched Draft 4.