I'm nearing completion of the first draft of Unmortal, and I've already accumulated a bundle of notes on how to tackle future drafts that might make it into a significantly different book. But for the better. Drafts are nothing but raw material for their successors anyway. And the more you go through the draft process and learn how to detach yourself from any particular incarnation of the material, the easier it gets.
In my earlier days, I found I'd get hung up on the most minor of details in a story -- how someone looked, for instance -- for both big and small reasons. The small reason was that I often got hung up on such stuff in a story in the early stages was because for me, those details filled the spaces in the story that hadn't yet been filled with the actual story itself. Once I had a more complete version of the story, I could swap my attachments to little details for a more general sense of what was going to be good for the story as a whole.
The big reason was a a different incarnation of the small reason. Even though I've been on a few go-rounds of this ride by now, I always think to myself this time it's going to be different -- that if I get attached to some cool cosmetic detail of a story this time, it'll be because my reasons are far more sound than before. Or so I tell myself. Eventually at some point along the way I wise up and figure out what's best for the story, and drop the sassy little details that aren't the story. Sometimes I even find a way to reinsert some of those sassy details except this time in the service of the real story.
But often, the only way to get there is for me to write the blasted thing. Drafts are discovery processes as much as they are realization methods. Most every scene in Unmortal generated questions I noted down for possible points of enhancement in the 2nd draft and beyond -- missed opportunities, questions the reader would most likely ask themselves, points worthy of expansion elsewhere in the story, and so on. And there's often no way to generate that insight without seeing how the story plays out at the scene and sentence level.
I've talked before about how I've moved away from the idea of writing-as-realization, where you have this Perfect Object in your mind and your job is just to transcribe it, and towards the idea of writing-as-discovery-process, where the very act of writing the thing is a way to find out what it actually is and how best to do justice to it. The former was an immature philosophy that came out of me feeling like if I couldn't conceive of the story as an indivisible whole, like Athena out of the forehead of Zeus, I shouldn't be in this business. It took encountering actual working writers to disabuse me of this idea -- e.g., Dostoevsky, whose notebooks showed me his greatest works did not come all at once by a long shot, but only after much deliberation and mutation of ideas.
Other authors can be inspiration or models, but they should never be yardsticks. Georges Simenon could sit down at a café and over the course of a few days produce an entire novel in a single go, in longhand. Good for him. That's not a standard to measure yourself against. 'Twas a while before I stopped yardsticking myself against anyone else, and found what worked for me. I have to have at least two or three go-rounds with a story before it's in suitable shape. No failing, that. For all I know, it was Simenon who was leaving things on the table, undeveloped.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind