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Monday, October 18, 2021

Talking Shop: And Then…After the First Draft • By Eric Dontigney

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

As most of you know, I spent the last few months writing a space opera novel by the name of Rinn’s Run. I chronicled that adventure with my almost weekly Writing Challenge updates. As novels go, that book was written pretty fast. I wrote the bulk of it in about 90-100 days. When you’re writing that fast, a first draft can become somewhat all-consuming. You think about it all the time, even when you’re doing other things. I’d plot out scenes while I was making dinner, or vacuuming, or giving my cat her mandatory 20 minutes of daily affection. I’d toy with phrasing in the back of my head while I was doing my day job writing. I’d think about symbolism while…nah, just kidding. I never think about symbolism. The point is that the book bleeds into every part of your life, if only by simmering in the background.

Then, one fine day, you type “The End” and it’s over. At least, that all-consuming creative push that drove you to write the book in the first place is over. Now, for some writers, there’s a kind of mental staggering that happens after you finish a draft. There is this big gaping hole in your brain where that book used to live. You’re not really done with the book, yet, because editorial notes, revisions, and new drafts are in your future. The key phrase there is “in your future.” Between turning in that draft and getting back the first round of notes, there’s a good chance that you’re treading water and feeling at wit’s end. You feel like you ought to be doing something, but there’s nothing to do.

In that respect, I’m lucky. I had tentative plans for what I’d do next when I first started writing Rinn’s Run. I know there will be a follow-up (or several) to Rinn’s Run. I’ve got a pretty good idea about what happens in the next book. I have 50,000+ words already written on an urban fantasy novel that I need to finish. I have partially completed short stories for my next Contingency Jones book. I have a novella started that I really want to finish before Christmas. I’ve got plenty to do to keep me occupied. The question I’m up against is this: Which project do I focus on next? There is a big part of me that wants to jump straight into writing the next Kalan Rinn book. In fact, I may write the first chapter or two just so I have somewhere to start when I do sit down to write it. It won’t, however, be my next big project. You may be asking yourself a very reasonable, “Why?”

It’s because I know that I have editorial notes and revisions coming my way in the near future. I sincerely doubt that I could knock out a complete draft of the next book before I get those notes. I asked myself if I wanted to be writing the second book while I was trying to polish the first book. The answer is no. They’re too closely entwined. I’d inevitably wind up dragging my editor brain for book one into my writing sessions for book two. You need perspective to do good revisions. You need creative fire to power through a first draft. The two do not mix well. Once I settled on that, the question became what writing would I work on over the next few months. I settled on the mostly completed urban fantasy novel. Again, you could quite reasonably ask, “Why?” Won’t I have the same problem with dragging my editor brain into my writing process?

I don’t think I will. The space opera and the urban fantasy have a couple of fundamental differences that will help me maintain the necessary disconnect. The space opera is told primarily from a third-person perspective. The urban fantasy is told as a straight-up first-person narrative. That alone will do a lot to keep the two processes fundamentally separated in my brain. Second, aside from a couple of tropes common to space operas (FTL, blaster guns, sentient AI), Rinn’s Run doesn’t knowingly break with the laws of nature. Mind you, my knowledge of those laws might have failed me in some way in writing the book, but I did my best to keep it grounded. The urban fantasy, by nature, deals with violations of the laws of nature all the time. I reasoned that, given those differences, the urban fantasy was the safest choice for the next project. Even if finishing it does overlap with the rewrites on the space opera, switching between them should prove a workable situation. 

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Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at ericdontigney.com.


SHAMELESS ADVERT: If you like Harry Dresden or John Constantine, you’ll love THE MIDNIGHT GROUND. READ IT NOW!

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