The Third Draft: My Writing Sucks For Sure

The Third Draft: My Writing Sucks For Sure

What better way to start the third draft than by banging my head against the wall?

I’m at the point where I know for certain that my writing sucks.

I am currently in the nadir of this timeline.

The stakes aren’t high enough. The characters aren’t interesting. The premise isn’t interesting. What is the premise anyway? The prose is flat. The story doesn’t make sense. The characters don’t act like real people. This kind of thing will never happen. Who does that? What is the conflict? The resolution sucks. The climax sucks. Everything sucks.

And the worst, irrefutable truth: I would never read this story if someone else wrote it. I would never want to read anything else that person wrote either. But because I wrote it, I’m trapped. I have to make it better. The second draft was where the major rewrites happened, but I’m going to have to do more major rewrites (dammit).

When I first try to improve anything, my first instinct is to do more research. In this case, I wanted to research the themes and vehicles of the story, i.e., chess, isolation, internet culture, anonymous behavior, etc. And that’s the stuff I have to really think about, because most of those themes are personal. Writing is always personal.

Like isolation. I am not a social person by nature. I had to force myself to learn to be social before I realized that, hey, this is okay. Actually, this is very okay! I like talking to people! But it still exhausts me, and I always need to be alone for a while after any meet-up. For a while in middle school and early high school, I felt isolated. I didn’t know how to talk to people. I always had a book with me (I still always have a book, but I will put it down to talk to people) and I had a reputation for always reading. I was okay with being alone most of the time, but when I wanted to talk to somebody, I felt like I was putting on an act in front of a one-person audience. I wanted to be a certain kind of person, but didn’t know how to become that person. So for much of middle school and high school, I was an asshole. Old friends tell me I wasn’t, but they’re wrong. I totally was.

It’s usually on the third draft where I get a little help from my friends: Angela and Lauren. Angela was my roommate for a few years in college. Lauren and I met in a writing class. They’re both better at grammar and spelling than I am, they know how to explain what they feel about something that sticks out, and we all have similar tastes in books. I trust their judgement.

First, they tell me what’s working. What does it mean when writing works? In a nutshell, it accomplishes its artistic and narrative goals. I’d rather work toward great writing following what I think is great, which may not always be conventionally good, rather than adhere to what people think is good writing. Good is the enemy of great. And what I think is great writing is vividly colored, emotionally deep, with muscular language, and which grapples to understand something through stories. My ultimate goal is to write something that someone will devour in one sitting, be unable to stop thinking about it, read it over and over again, and find something new in each iteration. My techniques may try to reach this sort of writing obliquely, and may even fail. And Angela and Lauren get that.  

They also point out what doesn’t work with specific comments. Here are Angela’s:

  • I missed this the first time. On re-reading, I now understand the later comparison with her students. I still feel like there’s been little to no romantic relationship development, though.
  • This is the first point where I realized Lena is anti-social (and it’s not until the later parts where I realizes she was extremely antisocial and unhappy). Re-reading it, there were a few hints towards it, but I think they may be too subtle. My first read-through, her misery felt like it came out of nowhere.
  • Doesn’t seem relevant.
  • Word choice?

I read all of them and consider them. Some of them are immediately, yes, they are right, I have to change this. Usually minor. I switched props– tiny cups of half’n’half became coffee stirrers, I used more concrete nouns to describe things, some grammar clean up. Most are immediately, yes, they are right, but how do I change this? We talk. I think. I ask questions. We talk it out again. Usually I think of the idea from thinking out loud. Back to rewrites.


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