Tag Archives: first draft

The First Draft, The Second Draft…

Newsflash: the preface is rewritten. Chapter 1 is halfway rewritten. Most of the preface was salvageable. It had to be rearranged and paragraphs added to reflect what was actually in the chapters. But most of it survived. Chapter 1, however, is a different story. It’s being completely rewritten. Not much of the first draft is going to make it into the second draft. The topic is the same: introducing the basic building block of the risk theatre. But that’s about it.

Normally, this would be a bummer. But good thing I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s a book on writing fiction. But it applies to all sorts of writing. The basic toolkit is the same. The process is also similar. Non-fiction is still creative: you’re presenting the facts in a ‘story’ to persuade the reader. King’s advice came to mind: the first draft is for the writer. The second draft is for the reader. No writer gets it right the first time. It is through the hard work of writing, rewriting, editing, coming up with the second draft, and the third draft that gets things done.

Now, what did King mean when he said that the first draft is for the writer and the second draft for the reader? This is what I think he means. The first draft isn’t really directed towards any sort of audience. It’s a proof of concept. It’s the writer talking with himself. Rambling. Or not even that. It’s the writer standing helpless as his words revolt against his ideas. There’s something of a Frankenstein in writing: once you’ve written it, it has a mind of it’s own. The idea can be beautiful. But the words can be ugly. The concept could seem perfect. But the words can prove the concept wrong. In the first draft, the writer is both active and passive. He is active in the sense that he is the one writing. But passive in the sense as he is helpless to where the story takes him.

If proof of concept takes place after the first draft is done, then the writer can proceed to the second draft. Proof of concept means that the words, verbs, and adjectives sort of square with the original idea. There is a congruence between idea and expression. It may not be perfect (and oftentimes is the opposite of perfect), but it works. If proof of concept has not happened, then, well, sorry to say, there is no need to proceed to the second draft. Time to start again. This has happened to me before. It is quite sad.

In the second draft, the writer is writing for an audience. He writes with the benefit of hindsight: he knows where the story is going to go. He can tailor the second draft so that it makes sense to readers. In all likelihood, the first draft just makes sense to the writer. For King, his ideal reader is his wife Tabitha. That’s who he writes the second draft for. My ideal reader is an old friend from grad school. The book is like a conversation or a chess match between us. A bit of agreement and some competition and disagreement as well. But no matter who the second draft is written for, it’s not written by the author for the author. That’s what first drafts are for.

In writing the second draft, the biggest lesson is that writing is just as much a process of destruction as it is of creation. You have to have the courage to throw out everything that doesn’t fit, no matter how much labour you’ve put into it. It’s like spring cleaning. It’s as difficult as throwing out old family heirlooms. But it must be done. Others do it. Of the really focussed and direct books I’ve read, I shudder to think how much writing, rewriting, and pruning must have taken place to achieve crystal clarity. Judging from my own experience, I would say a lot. Or, more than the writer cared to do. That’s probably where good editors come in… To tell the writer to put more fire into his work or put more of his work into the fire…

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work by putting some of my hard work into the fire.

Done Like Dinner (well 1st draft!)

The weekend was quite satisfying. The best part was typing ‘THE END’ in big capital letters at the end of chapter 9, the final chapter. In a prior post, I had been writing on the finish line mentality: the closer to the finish, the more things seemed to drag on. Well, after writing the post and realizing the error of my ways, I picked up the pace! It’s only the first draft, so ‘THE END’ is just another beginning but, hey, it was just satisfying typing that. Actually, damn satisfying. Here.s how it looks:

'The End' on 1st Draft

‘The End’ on 1st Draft

What will I do? I’m going to Disneyland! Well, no. Not yet. Or maybe better yet never. I went for a walk down to Dallas road where the kitesurfers were practicing their arts and thought what to do after the first draft was finished.

There’s a list of short stories and novels I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t had the time. Most of the reading lately has been research. The common theme behind the list is that the titles all have to do with the unexpected. It’s been collected over the years from a multitude of places. I kept the list running at the end of each Microsoft Word document that I was working on. As each chapter got completed, I would paste the list onto the end of the next Word document and so on. In other words, I’ve been looking guiltily at this list for a long time. Here it is:

Hermann Hesse The Glass Bead Game

Shalom Aleichem Lottery Ticket

Matilde Serao Land of Plenty

Edgar Allan Poe William Wilson

Honoré de Balzac The Wild Ass’s Skin

Jean Cocteau Children of the Game

Stephan Zweig The Gambler

Wow, some of these titles are surprisingly hard to find. Looking at the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) catalogue, couldn’t find the Balzac, Serao, Zweig, or Aleichem titles. Maybe some of the writers are obscure, but Balzac? C’mon!

What else now the first draft is done like dinner? Time to start rereading and rewriting. Let’s see how many pages there are as it stands:

Preface – 10 pages

Chapter 1 ‘Tragedy Equals Risk Times Time’ – 7 pages

Chapter 2 ‘The Power of Three’ – 10 pages

Chapter 3 ‘Forms of Tragedy’ – 18 pages

Chapter 4 ‘The Myth of the Price You Pay’ – 15 pages

Chapter 5 ‘Debemur morti’ – 2 pages

Chapter 6 ‘Elements of the Counter-Monetization’ – 8 pages

Chapter 7 ‘Taking the All-In Wager to the Stage’ – 21 pages

Chapter 8 ‘The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men’ – 18 pages

Chapter 9 ‘A Riddle’ – 17 pages

Grand total of 126 Microsoft Word pages. Now, I’m not quite sure how Microsoft Word pages will convert into the final product, but based on comparing number of words in Microsoft per page to the number of words per page in a standard type Penguin softcover, the factor is to divide by 0.6 to convert. So, 126 Word pages = 210 softcover pages. That’s a bit too many pages.

For what I’m doing, 100 to 150 pages should be more than sufficient. The ludic theory of tragedy is actually quite simple. This is no Critique of Pure Reason. I want the book to be approachable. Something a reader can finish in a couple of sittings, if not one. A lot of the best books are actually quite small. How to Do Things with Words by the philosopher Austin comes to mind. He clocks in just over 150 pages, but really short pages that you can slice through like butter. Same with another game changer, Abel’s Metatheatre. Seminal book. Only 146 pages. Big idea, small book. Let’s see what I can do.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I have just finished the first draft in the never ending project of Doing Melpomene’s Work.