Up until about five years ago, I lived in a part of the country where cutting a U-turn was not something you could do casually. Then I moved to a part of the country where you could cut a U-turn at most any intersection, and five years later I'm still flipping out every time I see someone doing it. Half the time when I do it, I flip out, because I'm expecting the cops to come arreeearrrring out of some side street to bust my sorry butt. THOU SHALT NOT CUT A U-EY IN A TRAFFIC INTERSECTION had been, as they say in Japanese, carved into my liver, and a habit that deep is hard to amend.
You are now reading a blog post about the way I handle first drafts. Adjust your mind accordingly.
By and large, I don't stop and turn around when I write a first draft of something. But this has less to do with the way I revise and more to do with the way I go into the first draft to begin with. Armed with an outline, a sheaf of notes, and one of those little USB-powered vacuums to pull the dust out from between the keys (you'd be surprised how well they work), I plunge in and try to swim that particular English Channel all in one sprint. (There is no sprinting in swimming, but you get the idea.)
But sometimes I don't get there at once. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was writing Flight Of The Vajra, I stopped at about the one-fourth to one-fifth mark, backed up by several thousand words, and jettisoned that part of the story. I'd written myself into a corner, and there was no way to get back out except by rewriting. Might as well dump what got me into that corner in the first place and start over, I thought.
The same thing happened this past week with The Fall Of The Hammer, the new novel-in-progress. Mercifully, I didn't have to ditch anything. I just had to back up and add some more material that I needed to have now, rather than in a second draft, so I could make it all the way to the end of the first draft without feeling like I was bumbling around with a blindfold on smacking my shins into the furniture.
Dumping anything you've written is painful, especially when it happens outside of the formality of the draft process. Nobody likes the idea that their words just go straight into the trash can.
Less painful, but still troubling, is breaking your forward momentum. It hurts to stop for any reason, especially a self-inflicted one. It's bad enough when we can't do it because of this real-life duty or that headache; it's worse when we choose not to for the sake of some larger agenda that involves the work itself.
But none of that lasts forever, and one has to find faith through knowing that and experiencing it, not just once but many times.
The P.S. of the story, as my father-in-law used to say, is this: I cut my U-turn, changed up everything I needed to, and got back in the saddle as of the day before yesterday. If you gotta, you gotta. Don't linger on how it feels; just make it happen.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind