How Drafting a Novel is like Getting a Tattoo

Let’s start by talking about tattoos.

I believe it’s safe to say the normal person would call me “moderately” tattooed.

Including an unfinished sleeve, almost the entirety of my legs from both hips to ankles and a few others here and there, I have 21 in total. I’ve been getting tattooed since I was 18.
I’ve spent many cumulative hours in artists’ chairs under the needle.

One of the questions that always confuses me about my tattoos is: did that hurt?

Because… the answer is yes.
It’s always going to be yes.
You’re being stabbed, rapidly by anywhere from 1 to 15 needles (or 50 if you’ve got a piece that needs it and an artist that has that mag on hand). The only thing that’s up in the air is how badly it’s going to hurt. And that depends on you!

Because I have as many as I do, I can tell you that tattoos hurt me less when the needle is running over muscle or bone. They’re not necessarily fun, but those two areas are no big deal anymore. Void and fat on the other hand… I shudder at the memory of my feet and ditch*. That’s how my tolerance sorts out. My husband’s is a little different. It’s a YMMV situation.

But one thing that I’ve found is universal about tattoo pain, is that you forget… and quite quickly.

It doesn’t matter if I’m under the needle for an hour, or six. The next day, I’ve already forgotten the actual pain. I know it hurt… but the exact degree of that pain? No idea.

Sure I can tell you that the process was all burn and bite as the ink was laid in, and that the vibration of my kneecap added a particular brightness to the pain that was no party. But I don’t accurately remember it.
(Writing supervisor making sure I'm drafting.)

And that’s a little like drafting a novel.

I’m writing this four days after my latest tattoo appointment and the day after I finished the first draft of a book that, at the end, made me want to throw things. It was like pulling teeth trying to get the words out of my brain and onto the paper. Every paragraph I laid down was wrong. Page after page I was stabbing myself and I started to lose sight of what I was even doing.
And that’s where the similarities come in

Drafting is painful.
It’s always going to be painful.
But I’ve done this before. I have hard proof that I’ve survived more first drafts than I have tattoos. And I know that by the time I am nearing the end of my next first draft, I’ll have forgotten the struggle of this book too.

It’s difficult, having an ugly lump of a draft. Glaring at it while finished books float around you and others celebrate the successes of drafts that were probably just as difficult as the one you’re fighting.

Maybe they’ve forgotten what it was like, too. Maybe they’re focusing on the success because they have to pour their attention into the finished product… or they might never draft another book.

If drafting is being stabbed with a needle and ink. Then Revisions are the healing process, the aftercare. And the final drafts are the tattoo you get to look at with a smile and think… maybe I’ll get one more.



*Inside of your elbow.

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