Arriving at work early, I was possessed with the urge to start writing The No. 9 again, and I don't mean that I wanted to get back to writing it, I mean that I wanted to start writing it all over again, incorporating what I've learned about myself and about writing in the past year or so. So I started it again, this time with these lines:
I renamed The No. 9 when I started rewriting it in secret. I gave it a new code name to aid its anonymity, calling it In Loco Parentis after a clause I noticed in the housing contract at my private boarding school. There were a few copies circling, I had sent one to the Real Cal (of course) and a couple of other friends whose taste in literature was beyond reproach. I asked them to summarize what the story was about, since I had gotten too involved with it to know what to say whenever someone asked me about it.
It was 199,154 words at that point and still didn't contain the Epilogue, which is arguably as important as the entire text that precedes it. My friends were engaged and intrigued, and I didn't want them to feel like they were wasting their time if I told them I was starting over.
Then again, is it really their business how many drafts I wrote, or how quickly I decided to rewrite something? There's a strange obligation that binds writers to their readers. Now that other people were invested in what I was doing, I had to be considerate and deferent in a way I didn't have to before, when I was just writing for myself, alone in my room.
When I sent The No. 9 to my friends, I hadn't quite finished reading it and putting my notes on it. Isn't email great? So I didn't know when I sent it to them that I would want to rewrite it, I didn't realize it myself until I was finished reading that behemoth first draft, over eight hundred pages. When I got to the end, knowing full well that I had to write an Epilogue that tied everything back together, I faltered.
Something was wrong about the whole thing. It was a lot of strung-together fragments that didn't convince me they formed a cohesive story. I liked the elements, there were some really good scenes between the beginning and ending of the book, but they didn't seem to have any real relationship to each other. I couldn't tell the people who still hadn't reached the end, but I also couldn't let them finish it without having a new version ready to make up for what they had just read.
So I started reworking it, from the beginning. I had the fleshy parts, I just needed to write down the bones so it would have some structure instead of collapsing under its own flabby weight. The Real Cal says the only way out of a writing problem is to write forward, so I kept a copy of my last draft next to my notebook as I painstakingly started the story over, with a pen this time and a scene from Fuller's past that never made it into the final text.
As my readers began to realize that there was, in fact, no ending and started pestering me about when they could read the next version, I assured them that the next draft was already in the works. I didn't tell them that I still didn't have an ending. We can never see past the choices we don't understand.
It would take me another year to finish the draft, filling whatever time I could steal with words. I knew it was too long for a first draft, but I didn't want to worry about the length until I was finished, and finished (this time) meant an ending and an Epilogue.