As I was walking in the rain yesterday to catch the bus into town, I found myself thinking about an old Steven Wright joke. As he paces on his bare stage set, he mutters about how his electricity went off so he used his camera flash to see enough to make a sandwich (pre-digital days so this was an actual lightbulb on top of the camera). This led his neighbour to call the police to report lightning inside his house.
It struck (!) me that writing is like lightning inside the house. It illuminates briefly but totally, then you’re stuck stumbling around in the dark trying to remember where the coffee table was, based only on a memory that’s mostly after-image anyway.
In the joke, SW goes on about how he tries to explain to the cops why he took 36 pics of his living room. Back in the days of film, that def. counted as eccentric.
That, to me, defines what a first draft is. 36 pictures of your living room, taken when no other light source exists. If you close your eyes, you know your story’s landscape intimately. But that doesn’t mean you can necessarily navigate it in the physical realm. Not yet.
The joke kinda trails off with SW muttering to himself (as is his wont), and that’s kinda how first drafts end too.
Of course, a second draft is like being a police sketch artist, trying to recreate a likeness from garbled, conflicting snatches of description glimpsed during an adrenaline high. But that is a post for another time