I set aside my first draft of Lu 8 years ago. Other areas of life needed attention. I’ll get back to this in a month or two, I thought. Five years later, I opened the file. It bit me. Almost everything had to go.
Almost. At least it’s better than everything, I thought, which is why I didn’t start a new file but chose to redeem this one. It took me a month to revise the first three chapters and work up the courage to send this second draft to my writing buddy.
An exodus makes for a great start to a story. The slam of the door behind, the drive ahead. There’s mystery, expectation. And hope. There’s great hope where the road meets the horizon. Maybe there, an answer awaits. The conclusion of the matter.
My journey traces these lines from a distance. It’s even beautiful with its coral sunrise that hogs the sky and ripe cornfields bursting, practically begging, for someone to take their offering. Only a two-lane interrupts their call, meandering through their acres more like a lazy river than a road.
I should know; I’ve been driving it all morning, and in an ’85 Cutlass that runs old in an exodus that could use something vintage. Even a car that that doesn’t eat itself would do. My driver’s window isn’t rolled down as an act of abandon; the car ate it. Swallowed it whole when I stopped for gas around 2:00 a.m. Such a detail sharply veers from the exodus outline, as do the effects of how the run-away humidity balloons my hair and fills my car with the smell of manure.
The sunrise is almost up, and this hot July morning promises a hotter day, which even if I were eager to get to, I couldn’t, courtesy of the delivery truck that’s curbing my flight to 40 mph.
I should be going 55, but I’ve driven this road enough to know that when this truck turns, another will take its place. I lean my head back – gingerly. I don’t want the seat gulping the headrest. I’m tired, partly because I’ve been driving all night, but mostly from why. A cheating boyfriend is so tiresome it’s typical, but the storyline wearies me all the same. And I know where this road ends. There’s no rush. 40 will do.
At least in this draft, there are a few words and phrases that made the final cut. You can see I’m still playing with metaphor, this time an exodus. There’s also allusions to Ecclesiastes, which I now knew would serve as the story’s scriptural anchor. Both are too heavy-handed. Delete, delete. What will stay is Lu’s weary tone. Yes, she’s upset that the man she loves cheated on her, but she’s wearied by this typical story line – the one about the boy who cheats and the girl who leaves. I’ll discover that line in Take 3. You could dress it up and call it a journey. But there was nothing new in the story about the girl who went home because she had nowhere else to go. These lines will follow and ultimately lead to the line that opens the whole thing. All the stories have been written, including mine.
8 years, 8 drafts, and I don’t know how many hours. I didn’t count them because I don’t track what I don’t care about. I cared about the story, and as much as these footprints to the final draft make me grimace, they’re my work table – the remnants of me writing as best I could on a story as best I understood at those points in time.
Two things shout to me from this glimpse into my writing past. First, the grace of God. There’s a lot of life in those 8 years and 8 drafts, some of it very hard. Lu is just one example of God’s grace to me.
The next is how much I enjoy writing. I wasn’t nervous to commit to writing about writing for the 30 days of NaNoWriMo; it’s a great excuse for talking about what I’m often thinking about, which reminds me of why curiosity is one of the first lessons I teach my students in my creativity and innovation classes.
What you’re curious about is what you’re tireless about. What you’re tireless about is what you’ll work hard at. What you work hard at you’ll eventually get good at.
Keep at it, storytellers.