Kristen McHenry has made a list of her fears. One of them is fear of someone reading my first draft. By this, I must assume that either her second drafts are final, or she is not afraid of someone reading her second drafts, or—and most troubling, she simply forgot to list the drafts that she fears someone reading. This last one bothers me so much because, other than this blog, I write many drafts of my work—upwards of 100 drafts for a piece of work. I don’t know about Ms. McHenry; maybe it’s plop, spell check, publish. But I doubt this. Thus, I wonder: does she fear someone reading any draft other than her final draft? Is it just certain drafts—say, 2,3 5, and 11? Or perhaps just the even drafts? Perhaps the prime numbers? Maybe it is even a mathematical sequence, like: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so on. Perhaps it is a more interesting sequence? One that I couldn’t even figure out and I am rather good at these kinds of things.
I understand the desire to withhold a work of art until it is finished. I have, for example, never let anyone read my first novel Kamping on Asphalt—not that people were tripping over themselves to get a copy. The truth is that the very idea of a draft is not clear to me in the sense that it usually takes an enormous amount of writing to get to something that one might call a first draft. I find the process goes something like this: crap, crap, crap, crap, crap with an interesting idea, crap, crap, crap with that interesting idea turned into a major dorky part of it, dorky crap, dorky, dorky, something readable but bad. The final result: the “first” draft.
Let me explain with the current draft of the first chapter of my second novel Treading Asphalt. I decided that because KOA was written in limited third-person, I would like to do TA in first person. That’s what Joseph Heller did, so how hard could it be? It was a bitch. It took me two years to find the voice of the narrator (and he was a major character in KOA, so I had a running start at it). And so here is what I would call my first draft of the first chapter of TA (note my fearlessness):
Waking up with your head on a steel toilet seat isn’t that bad—not any worse than waking up at all. My head feels like a million pins are sticking into it. Or maybe that it’s on fire, but just a little. Then I notice the rest of my body—it all feels that way. I push myself up using the toilet: no lid, no seat; less to clean; no assholes shitting on the lid. The blanket I’ve been wrapped in, falls away. My right foot gets tangled in it; I fall, but catch myself on the sink. Right next to the toilet—same steel. And the steel mirror—all I see are ribs; amazing what a couple weeks not eating does. I press the single metal fixture, and sort of cold water comes out; I drink it and it feels good; and that feels weird. I release the fixture, wipe my mouth with my arm, and stumble backwards onto the cot. It’s over. But only like a play—one you’ll perform tomorrow or next season or sometime. You know you’ve got one more performance in you.
I would have been ORed five days ago, but I was already sick when they picked me up. And now that I’m better, they’ll probably kick me out today. Multnomah County doesn’t have the space to spend much time on junkies—even repeat offenders like me. Even though they know I won’t likely show up to court. And I won’t. Even though they know that I won’t likely live a good clean life. And I won’t. They just don’t care. They have real crime to deal with—the violent, the evil, the psychotic; there’s no room for the merely pathetic. Hopefully it’s that way in Las Vegas and that I’m not the only person who cares who murdered Rachel.
Okay. Okay. It is genre crap, but I’m trying to make a living here. I would show you my second draft, but I fear people reading my second drafts. No, just kidding. But I won’t show you my second draft anyway—I can’t find it. Here’s my third (or maybe fourth), however:
This is Rachel’s fault.
I’m huddled next to the steel toilet, with my blanket wrapped around me and between me—I’m well enough to notice that I can’t stand touching my own body. Occasionally, I place my chin on the rim of the toilet and vomit. But nothing comes. I just kind of gag and drool. Past the worst of it—I managed to eat a baloney sandwich earlier. Just threw it back up, but it’s better than the dry heaves. I still have the sweats and the chills; and my ass feels like it’s on fire from the diarrhea. Just like the vomiting though, little comes. And what does come is pure acid—it’s a lot worse down there. Getting better, though; that’s all that matters—in detox or in life, right?
It’s all Rachel’s fault, because she’s dead. And because she was Rachel, which is why she’s dead, I guess.
I push myself up using the toilet—the blanket drops away. My right foot gets tangled in it; I fall, but catch myself on the sink. Right next to the toilet—same steel. And the mirror—steel. It reflects no one I recognize; all I see are ribs, beneath near transparent skin—amazed at what a couple weeks not eating does. My Jack Lord hair—a point of vanity and ridicule, is mushed down with sweat and puke. I look away: down. I press the single metal fixture, and lukewarm water comes out; I drink it and it tastes good; and that feels weird. I release the fixture, wipe my mouth with my arm, and stumble backwards onto the cot. It’s pretty much over. But only like a play—one you’ll perform tomorrow or next season or sometime. You know you’ve got one more performance in you—if you don’t die first.
I hate Rachel, and where I am, every thing’s her fault. But I’m not in the can because of her—because they think I killed her. Nobody cares that she’s dead, much less who killed her. Except me. I care. It’s the only thing I care about. And that’s why I got strung out again. And that’s why I got popped. Or maybe I just don’t have the stomach for it any more; maybe I’m not as good I used to be; the life is too fucking hard. But I always thought Rachel made it okay—worth it all. But maybe I was just a fucking idiot. Maybe I still am.
They would have ORed me the day I got arrested, if I hadn’t vomited all over their fingerprint machine. So instead of getting released, they put me in a cell alone so the detox could run its course. “Run its course!” That’s kind of funny. It wasn’t a bad thing though; I’ve done it a bunch; and I don’t know what I would have done if I’d gone free. Rachel was always paranoid of going cold turkey. Of course, she never had to; I always did the dangerous stuff. She died without a record.
They’ll throw me out tomorrow, probably—maybe even tonight. It doesn’t much matter. They send a medic a couple times a day to make sure I’m not dead, but that’s it; no meds, just tepid encouragement. I’m just taking up space—space for two, and Multnomah County doesn’t have the space to waste on junkies and shoplifters—even repeat offenders like me. They know I won’t likely show up to court; and I won’t. They know that I won’t likely live a good clean life; and I won’t, whatever the fuck that might mean. They just don’t care. They have real crime to deal with—the violent, the evil, the psychotic; there’s no room for the merely pathetic. It ain’t that way in Vegas; they don’t even believe Rachel was murdered, but if she were alive they’d arrest her for drugs.
The door to the cell buzzes open and startles me. I jump back and bash my head against the concrete wall behind the cot. It’s not bad; I don’t have the strength to move quickly, forcefully. I look to the door and Stu is standing there in his blue scrubs, hold the door half open. He’s a kid, maybe twenty-two—the caring type—one of those big guys who never got in a fight because everyone was afraid of his size. He’s apologized that he couldn’t get me any medicine, although he did give me some Advil; that was nice, even though I could still see the partly dissolved pills when I vomited them back up.
“How you holding up, Brian?” he asks kind of sad.
“Better,” I say. “You know.”
“You wanna take a shower? It’ll help; really.”
“Maybe,” I say. “In an hour? I’ve got to work up to it.”
“Sure,” he says. “I’ll come back; and I’ll help you.”
He leaves and the door slams shut. They’re pressuring him to get me out.
So I say, free yourself Ms. McHenry! Free yourself from this first draft fear! I have never met a writer whose work didn’t suck 99% of the time. Hell, I can show you writers whose published work sucks 99% of the time! Embrace your ineptitude; accept your ignorance; relish your double commas and similar typos; proudly right, “Theirs know perphection end da whirled.”
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