If we wish to compress something, we must first let it fully expand.
— Lao Tsu
I want to give people who are interested in reading my next book an understanding of how far I have to go. I’m not writing my autobiography; I’m writing about certain threads of my life, all of which have to touch on the essence of a particular story: Why I ended up on the street for so long and what I learned there. But it’s very difficult to see, in front, which threads I should use and which I should leave out. I could write a quick, cheap story, but that wouldn’t be satisfying to anybody.
For the first draft, I wrote down everything I could remember that might be relevant and researched the particulars (dates and places), but I didn’t worry about the quality or depth of the writing. (And it shows!) It had something like 600 pages. For this second draft, I’m giving elaborate structure to the first draft, eliminating some stories that don’t relate, but not concerning myself much with voice and character. It’s enough to lay out the detailed superstructure. It’s the longest draft and should run around 800 pages, maybe more.
I intend for the third draft to be the last one. I want it to end up at around 300 pages, which will require a great deal of compression. This second draft is helping me see how to get there by showing me what’s essential, what’s irrelevant, and what’s redundant. My focus on the third draft will be on voice. I want the person doing the talking to be me, not some writerly version of me. (It’s easy to slip into the role of pompous, literary narrator.) I’m beginning to see some of the structure for the third draft, and I’ve even worked on it a little bit—by hand. I want to write it by hand.
To sum up where I am currently: about a third of the way through the second draft.