The first draft of Birdland is finished. 114,664 words spread out over sixteen chapters. I started the first draft on August 26, 2015, tentatively titled The Ballad of Don Velour, and finished it on January 11, 2018. It was a very different story when I first started out, and it’ll be a very different story when I finish the second and third drafts.
Which is to say: even though I slapped “FIN” on page 350, that doesn’t mean the writing process is finished. Oh no, far from it. I’ve got so many new ideas I want to pack into it now, so the hard work of revision begins. Here, for example, is a small taste of the notes I’ve been keeping for things to insert or think about more later.
This is just 19 of the (currently) 87 notes in my Reminders app. These here are fairly general and old. As I approached the end of the final chapter, the notes I took became more and more specific. For example:
Ch4: C shuffling past the ring: instead of no time for recollection, we get a recollection about the controlled primal savagery of cock fighting
Yeah, I’m going to enjoy inserting that into chapter four.
Which leads to how I’ve written this first draft: I just focused on plot, getting my characters to move the way I want them to, and mood. Things like themes and motifs, you can’t put those in a first draft because, per Thomas Pynchon’s introduction to Slow Learner:
Disagreeable as I find “Low-lands” now, it’s nothing compared to my bleakness of heart when I have to look at “Entropy.” The story is a fine example of a procedural error beginning writers are always being cautioned against. It is simply wrong to begin with a theme, symbol or other abstract unifying agent, and then try to force characters and events to conform to it.
I took that to heart from the very beginning and decided to “just write the damn story.” This would (1) make sure the bones of the story were actually entertaining, and (2) allow me to finish the thing without getting hung up on details. Now, with a completed text, I can let the story itself tell me what my themes and unifying symbols should be.
How does the story tell me that? Well, I just reread what I wrote. I had a strong tendency of focusing on birds’ eyes, so there’s an image. Characters were forever walking through hallways, tunnels, and climbing stairs. Well, there’s a theme.* And then there was the violence in some sections. I meditated on that for a while, and then I noticed a pattern: to signal a character was violent or evil, sometimes I adjectives/similes/metaphors centered around “dinosaur words.”** Oh, snap! Birdland can be about the primal savagery arises in a society descended from dinosaurs (with the cute side-eye about how it’s not all that different from the savagery in a society descended from apes). Now, heading into the second draft, I can commit to these ideas (now that I see them in my own writing) and look for all the ways to bend what I’ve already written around them.
So there you go. A celebration as well as a description of how some of my writing process works. Tomorrow I’ll drop a post about the logistics of writing.