Over the last couple of days I have put together a fresh, second-pass outline for The Fall Of The Hammer, the new book. This is a habit I've only recently accustomed myself to: write an outline, write a draft, then create a new outline that reflects the changes you want to make, then write the next draft. This time I got a head start: I bailed before finishing the first draft, and wrote the next-iteration outline as a way to get out of the thorny cul-de-sac I'd written myself into.
As it turns out, I didn't have to tear the whole book apart and stick it back together again to make it work. It was mostly a matter of some additional logic here and there. I feared I'd have to essentially scavenge the book between drafts — use it for raw material rather than just "rewrite" it — but I didn't have to go that far.
Part of why I was worried I'd have to be so drastic in my approach was because of the long genesis of this particular story. It started as something I wrote way the hell back when and never properly finished, and also something I wrote back before I knew what I was really doing (a big part of why it was never finished). Its current incarnation was a salvage job: I scraped from it what few pieces were worth saving, and built a whole new story around them.
And now, one draft later, I'm seeing how that tainted (if that's the word) the project with an aroma that has been hard to chase away. The whole smell of the story is one of something that was torn down to even beyond its studs and rebuilt anew. Every time I think about how to fix any of it at all, I go back to that radical demolish-and-rebuild solution. It's only just now that I've taught myself to think about this story as something that can be incrementally improved instead of radically rebuilt.
Every story lives in the head in its own way, demands its own treatment, draws around itself its own circles and auras. The way I put this to someone else: some movies just seem right in black-and-white; some in color; some in IMAX and some in mere 1.78:1. Those things all seem to be internal to the project, sprouting from it and not something stamped onto it.
But some aspects of a story are stamped onto it even when you don't realize it. I'd grown so accustomed to thinking of Hammer as a salvage job, I'd almost forgotten there would come a point when it had to be thought of as its own thing, and not as a rescued piece of some other failed project — and, again, not as something that might only survive if I smashed it up and scavenged the best bits from it yet again.
Rarely do I drastically revise something once it's well under way, in big part because of the sheer amount of toss-and-test I do with most of my ideas in the conceptual stage. If I have an idea, and I can't dive into it somewhere along its length and come up with some image of what it would be like for that to play out on the page, that's a sign I don't have enough of it to get started yet. But this project has been an exception in many ways. I don't think that's a sign it'll be extraordinary when it's finished; just a sign that it's had a peculiar set of circumstances that I haven't been as well-equipped to deal with as I hoped. But I hope once it's put to bed, it'll be at least up to the standard I would set for any work of mine.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind