Today I picked up the manuscript for my first dragon novel, which I’ve tentatively titled The Dragon’s Apprentice. After writing it last year, I performed a line-by-line edit to increase its readability. I found this process not only tedious, but more draining than writing the original draft. It felt like elective surgery performed without an anesthetic. Part of me felt as if I were cutting away my fat, and making the work more fit and trim. Yet a voice inside my head cried out in anguish that I was cutting out some of what makes each scene so special and fun to read.
After completing that process, I was overwhelmed by all the tasks that still awaited me. I lumped them together, labeling them as my conceptual edit. They would involve research, but mostly I foresaw them as reconciling the various concepts, technologies, and worldviews that arose during the writing of my first draft. Like some of my exquisitely beautiful prose, some great ideas would need to be excised, others elaborated on, and still others created to supplement my fantasy world.
I couldn’t face that task then, so I set the manuscript aside for later. After some time away from writing, I talked myself into writing the sequel. In it, I would create more of my world, and my increased understanding of it, the peoples’ beliefs, and the technologies available would prepare me to face the conceptual edit for The Dragon’s Apprentice. Well, I’ve finished the first draft of that second novel. I know more about my world, and believe I can make more informed choices during the conceptual edit. After allowing myself a few weeks off between the sequel’s completion and returning to the first novel, it was time to return my attention to the first dragon novel.
This morning I read the first chapter. Not remembering all I cut out, I found that my mind followed the story well from sentence to sentence. I enjoyed the flow of the narrative, reacquainting myself with this area of my fantasy world, and revisiting this portion of the characters' lives. I made notes that will contribute to my conceptual edit. After the time away, I think I can better judge what areas of my novel need more work, and more importantly, which aspects are fine the way they are. As Roger Zelazny might say, I think I can finish the story, and provide the necessary explanations within the text, without weighing down the prose with unnecessary information. Or compiling a glossary, index, and appendices longer than the novel itself.
In his poem “The Rainy Day,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Into each life, some rain must fall, some days must be dark and dreary.” Well, I’ve had my dark and dreary days. Some days it’s rained so hard that I sank beneath the floodwaters, unable to see, to think, or even breathe. As I begin my conceptual edit, the sun rises in the heavens. It illuminates a path through the problems that await me. While I wish I could have perceived that path earlier, I've set my feet upon it, and intend to follow wherever it leads.
Everyone gets overwhelmed at times. Everyone sets some tasks aside for a time when they hope they’ll be better prepared to tackle them, and then feels guilty for having done so. Whatever tasks you’ve set aside for later, but would dearly love to complete, I wish you the strength, and the willpower, to endure the dark and dreary days. Rest assured: the sun will return.
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