For someone who has so many unfinished projects, you wouldn’t think I’d have a lot of problems with second drafts. But this isn’t a post about how difficult it is to write a second draft (though I’m sure that will pop up somewhere), this is more about how difficult it is to finish a first draft while continuing to populate ideas which are so much better than what you’ve already written.
Allow me to explain as this has become a huge problem for me in writing my latest short story. I’ve had a story I’ve wanted to write for quite a few years now about a scientist who is experimenting with genetic modification and combining the DNA of different animals to make them ‘better’.
So I embarked upon my short story with this premise: a former Nobel prize winning scientist invites a disgraced child prodigy turned blogger to her secluded laboratory for an exclusive interview about her latest experiment. What should be the scoop of a lifetime could be his last when he uncovers the true intentions behind her experiments.
I wrote around a thousand words and found myself at somewhere just before the halfway mark when I realised a couple of major flaws with my story: the stakes were not high enough and the relationship between the characters just seemed…forced. And I stalled. While I had started my story with full of hope and great vision it just did not seem to translate to the page, I felt like my pen was plotting against me.
But my brain was not going to let this stop me, instead it brought to find fresh ideas and different approaches that I could try to get it right. Now I’m intent on writing the story again, this time shaping it more to fit the Gothic monster theme, think Dracula or Frankenstein. I feel like my story is purpose built for that particular style. And with that I want to remove the ‘blogger’ aspect which I now can see was only added to make my story seem modern and I want to replace him with a spouse who my scientist has finally decided it is time to open up to. Although who’s to say that it won’t end in the same way?
I’m really excited by the new relationship at the centre of my story and trying to give it a more Gothic feel (Dracula is one of my favourite books of all time) yet all I can think about is that half-written first draft. I’ve always been told the hardest part of writing is actually getting to the end of the first draft and I cannot believe how true that is. But when I have such exciting ideas for the second draft why would I bother finishing the first? Why do I need to know an ending to a story that’s going to change? These are the questions I ask myself to try and justify tossing aside hours of work and planning – not only with this short story but with so many others too.
Then on the other side of that argument, what if I get halfway through my second draft and then come across another idea that I think would be even better. In the end I may have put in days worth of writing without really ever getting anywhere, only a stack of unfinished papers that aren’t going to get read.
I desperately want to finish, but I desperately want to finish something good and something that I can be proud to show people. Should I continue to the end of my first draft so that I have a template to work on? Or should I just start from scratch on my ‘better’ version of the story?