I typed these words: “…vivid enough to be sure of.” I stared at my computer screen. The undersized keyboard on my too-small laptop sat beneath my fingers, silent. People tell me that I type extremely loudly, banging each key violently, even when I’m perfectly calm. I’ve tried blaming my computer – but then they hand over their own laptops or keyboards and I try typing and the banging sound resumes. Clearly, it’s me. I hammer out words with a fervor that doesn’t often suit my mood and that isn’t healthy for the machines I use or for my wallet. A wallet which, if I continue to pursue the path of my chosen profession, will probably not fatten with big bills or numerous credit cards. I should really give my poor keyboards a break.
I digress. Those words, that are vivid enough in my mind to be quite certain of now, were the final words of the last sentence of Chapter Fifty. I didn’t plan it that way, but I ended on a nice, round number like that. Fifty. It’s satisfying, that number. It feels very complete.
I wrote the first draft starting at the end of January, 2011, and finished it almost exactly a year ago, at the end of August, 2011. I tried reading it about a week after I had written the last page, unsatisfied and knowing that there was so much more that needed to be changed, inserted, taken out and neatened. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t read it. It reeked of my own foul stench, as if I’d secreted my body odor into it.
Worse than that, though – it was boring. I tried reading that draft more than once during the months that followed. Every time I picked the thing up, I was astonished at how basely dull it was. There was no there there. There was no essence, no feeling, no emotion – it was a string of words with periods and commas more or less where they should be, dashes and semicolons peppered in for variety. Sure, the sentences were well formed enough. They were understandable. No one would be confused as to the meaning of “Amanda felt” so and so or of “Dan said” thus to some other person.
But beneath the disgust, beneath the boredom, there was a gut feeling that told me that I would be back. There was a knowledge that these characters and their story were too important to me, as small as their lives are, because ultimately I believe in the importance of small lives. I cannot contain the vastness of humanity – I often talk with disdain about how “all politicians” are like this, or how “people are so stupid” sometimes. But I know that these words are ways for me to deal with the everyday – ways for me to be able to live and breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Because if I gave in to one of my biggest wishes – to try and empathize with everybody, all the time – I would lose myself and I would go mad. Nobody can contain so much of the world. As George Eliot wisely wrote in Middlemarch:
If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
I was right. At the end of the best school year I have ever had, having finished my sophomore year and said goodbye to my friends at my college in the US in preparation for spending the year abroad at Oxford University in England, I was finally ready. I read the first draft of the nameless novel, one of the four I have written, and dedicated my summer to writing my first second draft.
And now, after two months and nine days, I have finished. I’ve eliminated a lot of expository information that I needed by a potential reader wouldn’t. I’ve gotten rid of my bad habit of overusing adverbs – although I also don’t believe that they’re anathema and allow them to remain here and there, when they’re useful and don’t sound glaringly obnoxious. I’ve changed the race of one character and the sexual orientation of another because they both told me to. I’ve changed the names of minor characters because there were too many similar names with the letter “M” in them.
It may take another few months before I’m able to read the second draft. But meanwhile, hopefully, some of my friends and loved ones will be willing to read this draft – which is, I am positive, superior by far to the first – and will be able to give me some notes to guide me in my next draft.
And meanwhile I will also be able to hang around this place again, sweep out the dust and cobwebs, and hopefully get some good, fun, flash fiction and experimental practice writing going.