Thursday, February 07, 2008

First Draft Exhaustion

Posted by Lynne Griffin

I'm tired today.

What-I-would-give-to-stay-in-bed tired. Don't-put-another-thing-on-my-to-do-list tired.

All because of my work-in-progress.

For the most part, I find writing a first draft to be exhilarating. I like naming characters, considering the most appropriate point of view, and I love choosing story structure. Early on, like a child with a present to open, I can't wait to see inside my characters' motivations. I feel blessed to be brought along on their transformative journeys. As Chris Bohjalian says, "it's the joy of discovery draft." I love learning who my characters really are, following their lead I get to go to places I've never been, meet people I might otherwise never know. It's a literal trip.

Then somewhere in the middle of the story, they start to wear me out. Two weeks ago, I was sipping my morning coffee, not even thinking about my WIP, I had so many other things to do that day. My main character decided that was when she wanted to share her backstory with me. Her story popped into my head, and I needed to rearrange the day to write it all down. She was keeping a scandalous secret for a young girl in the 1950's, and I was afraid I might lose the details if I didn't capture them right there and then.

Last week, I lost an entire night sleep because another lead character wouldn't stop niggling at me. Like a toddler, she'd followed me wherever I went during the day. There she was when I unloaded the dishwasher, she poked me on the shoulder while I tried to answer email. Tugging at my sleeve while I drove my son home from school, even he knew she was bugging me. On the way over to pick up a friend he said, "Are you writing? You have that face on." I laughed because I've been told about that face before. Apparently it's a look I get when I'm writing, but I'm no where near my computer when I make it. My husband and children have seen, the I'm writing face quite often these last few months. My son was right, I'd been trying to figure out what my character would do when faced with her mother's deception.

So there I am, right in the heart of the story. The place where characters have the power to shock me, distract me and otherwise put me through the wringer. They could let me sleep, but they won't. They could choose to minimize what they tell me, but they can't seem to. They could slow down the pace with which they disclose their secrets, but they don't. And to tell you the truth, as exhausted as I am, I wouldn't have it any other way.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

I love that your family recognizes your writing face! These characters who consume us don't believe in a 9-5 schedule do they? Just the other night, as I was drifting off to sleep, i jumped up, ran into the closet, flipped on the light and jotted down a new detail that suddenly explained so much. When I got back to bed, my husband was chuckling. He knows that just like you, I wouldn't have it any other way. (Neither would he, truth be told.)

Can't wait to see where your characters lead you.

Carleen Brice said...

I think I feel that way no matter which draft I'm on, alternatively excited or exhausted. Right now, Lynne, I'm with you: whipped, but my wip is due to my agent on Feb. 25th and to my editor on March 10. Time for a big cup of tea.


My husband is a musician and whenever he hears music he gets a look on his face that lets me know he's gone.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Judy,

These characters who consume us don't believe in a 9-5 schedule do they?

No they don't! Yet we love them just the same. I love where this novel is taking me, and can't wait until it is buffed and polished so I can share it with readers.

Can't wait for your next, too.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


Best of luck with your writing toward deadline. Pour the tea and listen hard. Please know I'm pulling for you to get your story told!

So glad to know I'm not alone--others get "the look", too.


Larramie said...

IMO, the most telltale sign of the writing face is in one's eyes.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

The windows to your soul. :)



Therese Fowler said...

Oh, sure, get us all eager to read THIS novel when we still have to wait to read SUMMER.

When I get that look, my husband says, "What's the scene this time?" Amazing how much writing we do when we aren't writing.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Therese,

I once went to a Carol Goodman reading and she said she is always most in love with the novel she is working on. I can relate, and yet I'm still wild about SUMMER.

Isn't it funny how the ones we love come to know this writing process almost as intimately as we do?

BTW--the postcards are quite lovely!


Therese said...

Yes, I can relate to what Carol said, too. It's very strange to now be re-focusing on SOUVENIR when I've been so intensely immersed in my new work.

I think it's like loving all one's children, but focusing on only one of them at a particular moment.

Anonymous said...

Yes! It's like falling in love - you want to learn as much as you can learn about that person, and cuddle every single day. Then it's like, "Look, we've been hanging out everyday for like three months. I really need some alone time to get some errands done and maybe have dinner with my girlfriends."

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


There are some unique feelings that go along with living a literary life. I like your child analogy. So true.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


Your analogy to dating works really well too. And your voice is so funny. Thanks for stopping by.