I was hopeless the first time I played laser tag. I’ve never had the best sense of depth perception, and my aim is nothing to brag about. I knew that from a couple of archery classes. Laser tag wasn’t my thing. It was, however, something I wanted to try. I had friends who had played. It sounded like something amazing, something that would push the limits of my shell. When the staff from the camp I used to work at went during staff training, I accepted an invite to go along. I knew the general gist of the game. There were going to be lasers. It was going to be dark. There would be shooting.
That first time playing was pretty fun. There were a lot of us who hadn’t played before, so that made learning a lot less of a risk. Of course, there were the handful in the group that owned the place. That always happens. I learned there were teams. I learned there were bases, which would give you a lot more points in the take down than just sniping people. This was appealing in that the bases were stationary. They also gave me a focus, sort of like Ender Wiggin and his “the enemy’s gate is down.”
I’ve gone back to play laser tag since that first time. Sometimes it’s a few times. Other times I make it once. I have fun. I can navigate the course better. My usual group of friends and I work out a system based on which bases are hardest to get. We cover for each other. I’m still not good at it, but it isn’t the lone wandering in the dark it was the first time. I can generally get to the middle of the pack score wise. I’m horrible at watching my back.
Writing my first original novel draft was like that first time playing laser tag. I knew what the basic equipment was–plot, characters, and setting. I had glimpses of what the end would be. I had a beginning, but it would turn out the one I had was too early. I had some mile markers, but I had no idea how to progress from one to the other.
First drafts are more like my second and subsequent nights of playing laser tag. The path to a finished draft isn’t this unseen path I have to fumble along in the near darkness. I know the bases along the way. It’s still not an easy path for their are obstacles that get in my way. Like the other players in the game, they can shut me down for awhile. They can distract me or prevent me from reaching my target easily. Sometimes the writing itself can be the obstacle as what I thought I learned on the last book no longer applies to the one I’m now drafting. This is not unlike the nights when the bases at the game can fire back after they’ve been taken out. Sometimes there is a big hurdle that I can’t get past. I have to come around again and again, trying different paths, hiding in different corners until I finally can get where I want to go. Sometimes I want to give up when it feels it all is wrong, such as the rare game where negative points are allowed or when the pack I’m wearing won’t register a single shot I take, leaving me with a zero for the night. When I’m struggling, I know how to find my writing friends, my teammates. They’ll help get me take my bases, and help me watch my back along the way.
When bad games happen, I push on. Maybe I won’t get back to it again that night. That’s okay. There are other stories waiting. I can poke at one of those. It might be time to revisit my roots and plunge into reading. Sooner or later, I’ll get that draft going. I’ll find the end. It might not be a pretty path when I’m done, but the point of that first draft is getting it done. It can get untwisted later.
When it comes to editing, I feel like I’m at laser tag again for the first time. I know what some of the pieces are and I know what the goal is. Finding the bases is the next challenge. My path to them might not look like anyone else’s. It might take a long time. It’ll change for every book. That’s the adventure of it. I’m not going to learn it all at once. It’s something that will need doing time and again. I can educate myself about it. I can look to people who know a lot about it. I can experiment with different strategies. In the end, though, I have to strap on my pack and start firing.