Greetings, earthlings! I’ve been on an emotional high for the past few hours. When I think about it, I can’t help smiling. What’s going on in my life, you wonder? Remember that post I made a few months ago about the first draft of my novel?
Though I haven’t had the most eventful spring break, I did accomplish one of the many goals I set for myself over this week: I finished the first draft of my book. I typed the last few words of Loud Whispers this evening, right after dinner.
It was just as exhilarating as you’d think. I mean, I wrote a whole novel. I told 80,256 words of a story. They are terribly imperfect words, and over the past few days, as I realized I was nearing the end of the draft, I started coming up with ways to revise problems that I already know I have (*sneaky writer smile*). I’ll be the first one to admit that my first draft sucks – there are definitely three scenes in a row that repeat the same information or phrasing, scenes that serve no purpose, pieces of dialogue that sound fake, run-on sentences galore and phrases that don’t make sense, even to me. Whole chapters are definitely out of order – I sent two of my characters on a cross-country road trip from Boston to California, and I’ve written their stop in Chicago after the part that takes place in San Antonio.
Like, have I even looked at a map of the United States in my life?
Oh, and did I mention my total lack of description of some of the settings? I swear at least half of this story takes place in a vacuum of boring whiteness, because I just forgot to talk about where the things were happening. That means there’s still a ton of research I have to do – thank the good Lord for Pinterest so I can just add pretty pictures of the cities I’ve never seen to my board.
And how could I forget to mention the fact that there are scenes in my document that are contained entirely in [brackets]. Like right now they’re just summaries of the longer, better scenes that they should be, because I got lazy and wanted to write a part that was more fun and told myself I’d return to that part when I looked at the manuscript as a whole during my editing process.
And – perhaps the scariest thought – who knows, maybe I don’t actually have a story in there at all. Maybe it’s just 80,000 words of pretentious philosophical meandering that no one else will ever want to read. Ever.
But guess what? I don’t care about any of that right now. Those flaws I mentioned – I’ll get to them in stages as I revise. I’ll tackle one thing at a time. Tonight, I wrote those words and then had a big cup of hot chocolate to celebrate. Yes, I know my first draft is crap. All first drafts are. Tonight I finally finished the novel that had been kicking around in the back of my head, in at least some form, for years.
Continue reading, dear friend, and I shall
play you the song of my people uh, I mean, tell you the story of the story. Storyception. Kind of like that song How a Bill Becomes a Law from Schoolhouse Rock, but instead How an Idea Becomes a Sort-of-OK-Novel-Draft.
Once upon a time, way back when I was a wee sophomore in high school, I wrote a story. Because I grew up watching too many Law & Order marathons, it featured a crime. The details aren’t really all that important, because the story wasn’t all that good since I didn’t know what I was doing. But the characters stayed with me, and before I knew one of the side characters I’d only barely introduced at the end became the main character, and a new story had to be told.
From there, Loud Whispers (I love a good oxymoron) has gone through about a thousand different incarnations, and just as many titles. I knew the theme from the beginning – the interconnectedness of our lives and the responsibilities we have to one another. After I discovered Katie Weiland’s fabulous writing blog (she’s definitely earned a place in my book’s acknowledgements) and spent countless hours walking myself through her guides, I learned how to map out the plot structure as well as all of the major character arcs. I outlined until I thought I was ready to finally sit down and write.
But I would still struggle to write the story. Every time I set my fingers to the keyboard, trusty cup(s) of tea within reach, I would come to a grinding halt around 20,000 words. Then, as I tried to troubleshoot whatever was going wrong, I’d get stuck in an endless cycle of re-outlining, re-writing, and… whatever the rest of my life was deciding to throw at me.
I think one of the biggest problems I had was desiring that everything be perfect on the first try. This perfectionism infects all areas of my life, not just writing. Recently, though, I’m happy to say that I’m starting to see it let go of me. I can’t pinpoint a particular time or place that I started to see this happening, but I know that I am strong enough to move forward with less fear.
Two summers ago, before I started college, I finally nailed the plot twist that was going to tie all the story’s pieces together. When it hit me, (I won’t go into too much detail because, you know, spoilers) I was unsure about including it. I thought it would be too mature, beyond my abilities. But now, I don’t think the story that I want to tell would be half as powerful without it. And even then, when I knew what was supposed to happen, I struggled with the actual writing.
According to Google Docs, I created the document for this draft on August 19th. So I’ve been working on it for almost exactly eight months. I spent many months before that trying to figure out what was wrong with this story that was keeping me from writing it the way I wanted to. There’s definitely at least a dozen (probably more) half-started drafts hanging around my computer, which I kept in the hope that the many hours I’d spent working on them wouldn’t be in vain and that at least a sentence or two would be valuable. And maybe there’s something of value there.
Anyway, I can feel myself starting to lose my focus. My point is: I’ve learned a lot writing this darn thing – about the craft of writing, yes, but also about life. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t let the fear of failure scare you off from what might be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
And accept humble, crappy beginnings. Potatoes have to grow in a lot of dirt to become the beautiful sources of nutrients they are.
I shall end with this meme, which I stole from Pinterest/Whisper. Maybe it will explain what I mean.