second drafts

There’s something about August that makes me eager for fall. It’s more than just the heat and humidity…  it’s that sense that soon there will a collective letting go. Mamas watching their children climb aboard school buses with their brand new backpacks and lunchboxes. The rich green of the mountains taking on a subtle copper glow. Powerful thunderstorms releasing a fury that leaves the lights blinking and the dogs huddling at my sides. 

I’ve noticed that us humans like to skip ahead. When it feels like summer is slipping through our fingers, we reach for Pumpkin Spice everything. Halloween Superstores pop up in random parking lots, and holiday displays begin to erupt at Home Depot. It seems to happen earlier every year, doesn’t it? Sometimes I think perhaps it’s because as a society, we’re aching more and more for expressions of comfort, reasons to celebrate, excuses to connect. 

For me, though, I’m having that yearly urge to purge, clean, and organize. I’ve never been a spring-cleaner. I’m an autumn-cleaner, one that moves with the seasons, allowing things to die off as the cherry leaves out back begin to yellow and drop from their branches. I have a clean desk as of this morning after spending an hour or so sorting through piles and ousting the clutter. Deena and I have been getting rid of things we don’t use anymore and dreaming about tiny houses in Vermont. Pretty soon, I’ll take on the fridge and the pantry. And each morning, I fumble through a meditation practice in an effort to liberate myself from overthinking and worry. 

A couple of folks have been asking lately what it means to me to be working on the second draft of my book. 

What I’m finding is that the second draft, like autumn cleaning, requires a keen Marie-Kondo-eye for organizing, knowing which parts are useful or meaningful to the story and which parts no longer support the narrative. I’m finding it to be a slower process than I had expected. I shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, I am looking through a different lens than I was when I first began this project. I am discovering places in my book that are crowded and messy, where I need to sweep out the cobwebs and let go of beloved parts of my story because perhaps they no longer belong, where I need to make room for digging deeper into the nitty gritty and creating cohesion and purpose.  

It’s easy to get tangled up in this first rewrite. The perfectionist stops in unannounced, pulls a chair up, and spits, “C’mon, you can do better than that,” as though this second draft is the be-all end-all of drafts. The inner bully hovers over my shoulder and picks at the page like a chimpanzee plucks bugs off its mate, and tells me my paragraphs aren’t spotless enough, my ideas aren’t compelling enough, my scenes and my characters aren’t engaging enough. The musician in me looks for a steady pace and rhythm, while the architect in me is constantly poking at the structure to see if it will hold up or if it will crumble. 

If my first draft was an infant that I pampered and coddled, my second draft is the toddler in its “terrible twos.” One minute it is clinging to me, letting me focus on little else, and the next, it’s running away or throwing a tantrum, and like an exhausted mother on the brink of her own meltdown, I find myself thinking, grow up, why don’t you. 

So I take a break and clean off the desk. This is better than distracting myself with job listings or HGTV. It keeps me in the flow of extracting meaning and letting go, of late summer days when you swear you can smell just an inkling of what’s to come.  

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