If you’ve ever climbed a mountain – or even a moderately challenging hill – you’ll know what a false summit is. It’s the peak you fix your eyes on when you’re halfway up the slope, convinced your ultimate goal is in sight and you’ll soon be able to rest.
The trouble is, when you reach the false summit, you discover it’s nothing more than a crafty outcrop beyond which there’s a whole heap of mountain still left to climb.
That’s how I feel as I knuckle down to the second draft of the novel I’m ghostwriting. The euphoria of finishing the first draft has worn off. The realisation has dawned on me that I have just one more chance to tell this story properly – and precious little time in which to do it.
First drafts are tough. But they have a freedom about them. You screwed up? No problem – you can fix it later. Writing is rewriting, right?
Second time around, there’s nowhere to hide. As a ghostwriter, I know there’s a team of editors (the same people who wrote the outline I’m working from) ready to pick up any pieces I might drop. But I don’t want to drop a thing. I want to give them perfection.
But nothing’s ever perfect, is it? Leonardo da Vinci had it right when he said: “A work of art is never completed, only abandoned.” That’s why the second draft is so hard. At the very moment you need to put all your attention on to the page, the words you’ve written start to blur. The positive editorial comments fade to invisibility; only the challenging ones remain. Doubt creeps in. You start to analyse every paragraph, certain that you could make it better. That you must make it better. Soon you’re criticising every sentence. Finally, every word.
That’s when the slope gets steep. That’s when the summit – the real summit – feels far away. Perhaps unreachable. When the mountain looms in this way, you have to lower your eyes and focus on your feet. Forget the destination, just concentrate on the next step, the next turn of the track, the next pebble on the path.
And, whenever you can, remember to take in the view.