About three weeks ago two things were winding down: the second draft of my book and the year of 2018. I had hoped to have the draft done before Christmas, but as Dec. 25th drew closer and the stress mounted, I decided to push the goal back to New Year’s. Of course I got a little too comfortable with the extension and found myself racing to finish the draft before heading out to my New Year’s Eve party on Dec. 31st. I ended up being a little late to the party, but it was worth it. I really wanted to leave draft 2 of my novel in 2018, and I’m pleased to say that I was able to do that.
I started working on draft 2 (aka “the rewrites”) at the beginning of May 2018 when I finished my course work for my degree. I was able to crank out a rough and (not) ready first draft while I was still in university, but this messy draft meant that I had a lot of work to do in draft 2. The big issue with the first draft of this project was that it was under-developed. It came in at about 40,000 words (the average book is anywhere from 55,000-100,000 words).
I was listening to a podcast–I’m sorry, I don’t remember which one it was now–where an author said that every writer goes through a “Hemingway phase.” When I was writing the first draft of my book, I was definetly in this phase. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ernest Hemingway’s work, he was known for his simple style that used very few words, but somehow got at deep issues of the human condition without ever actually talking about them. I remember reading his short story, “Hills like White Elephants,” back in school and having my young mind blown. I am not going to do the many positive and negative complexities of Hemingway justice in this post, so if you’re interested go read some of his stuff or in the very least, have a peek at his Wikipedia page.
Anyways, the point of bringing up Hemingway is to talk about the “Hemingway phase.” I might be hijacking this term, but I understood it to be a phase where the writing becomes sparse and stripped back, like Hemingway’s style, but without the underlying substance to support it. A writer (i.e. me) might find themselves throwing around the phrase “It’s up to the reader to decide what this means” or “The reader is just supposed to feel the emotion in this scene.”* You might think you’re being all avant-garde with it or deep and philosophical, but usually this just comes off as confusing and pretentious to the reader. The sparse writing and ambiguity of a writer in the “Hemingway phase” becomes a way to disguise the fact that you don’t actually know what you want your writing to say. Hemingway knew exactly what he wasn’t saying in the work, which is what made it good.
All this to say that I was deep in the Hemmingway phase during the writing of my first draft. For me, this manifested especially in my fear of writing exposition. I loved writing dialogue, but I felt like any interior monologue or any other sort of exposition (especially description), besides basic description of actions, gave too much away and did too much telling instead of showing. I treated exposition as a necessary evil, and in return, my first draft came out feeling under-developed, sparse without that underlying substance. So that’s what I set out to fix when it came time to start draft 2.
Learning how to balance exposition and dialogue is still an ongoing process for me, but I feel like I learned a lot when I was writing draft 2. I had a lot of support from my writing group members who have a strong practice of writing beautiful exposition. They challenged my work and held me accountable to writing content that had substance, without compromising my natural, sparser style. I learned a lot from them and from taking note of how the exposition was written in the novels I read.
In some ways I think over-corrected with my exposition in draft 2 and told the reader too much. When I started draft 2, I was at 40,000 words, and when I finished draft 2, the piece had grown to just under 70,000 words. However, I think this was a necessary process for me, so that I could better understand the story I was telling. Now as I head into draft 3, I think my focus will be on refining this balance even more. Now that I have a stronger grasp on what I’m saying, I feel as though I am beginning to know what can be
taken away said in less words, so that the reader can still follow the story, but also be engaged on a critical level.
I know that you can start new projects at any time of the year, but it feels like an extra special treat to be greeting 2019 with a new draft and a new focus for my creative work. I’m looking forward to another year of writing, and I hope that you have good things to look forward to as well.
*I’m not completely condemning these lines of thoughts in writing, as long as they’re used purposefully and thoughtfully to serve the piece and not as an excuse for lazy writing.