If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know that I began writing the third installment in the Dakota Stevens Mystery Series last Monday, and that I’ve written about 18,000 words so far.
What you don’t know, because I haven’t spoken about it at all, is what a bitch this first draft has been.
The tension of not knowing exactly where the story is going is killing me.
It’s been a while, you see, since I had to write a Dakota novel from scratch. The last time I sat down and started a first draft was seven years ago.
Obviously, I’ve written first drafts of other work since then—stories, essays and speeches mostly—but nothing compares to the intricacy of a novel.
Which is why I’ve recently taken great solace in two quotes on writing by two masters: E.L. Doctorow and Bernard Malamud.
Doctorow compared writing—particularly writing a novel—to driving at night through fog. “You can only see as far as your headlights,” he said, “but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Whenever I’ve found myself getting frustrated with not being able to see the story more than a chapter or so ahead, I’ve thought of Doctorow’s quote: “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
The second quote, by Bernard Malamud, was directed to writers in general: “Teach yourself to work in uncertainty.”
This is especially apropos to the writing of a first draft—the very definition of uncertainty.
Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty is imperative for a writer. Uncertainty about where the story is going. Uncertainty about how it will be received. Uncertainty about finances. Uncertainty of all kinds.
These two ideas—uncertainty, and seeing as far as your headlights—are getting me through the first draft, and they’ll get you through, too.