Ladies and gentlemen, the first full draft of my novel has been completed! Woohoo!!!
Yeah, yeah, I know: so what? Many writers finish novels, what’s so special about it, huh?
Well, it’s special to me because it’s mine (thank you, Agent Obvious). It’s all my dreams and nightmares condensed, my ideas and fears displayed, my hard work and my tears, my frustrations and victories, all rolled into one. And it’s special even if no one else ever reads it, even if they read it and hate it, or worse, feel nothing but indifference and boredom. It’s still damn special because it means I was able to pull my shit together and finish a whole novel. So even if it should never make it to anything more than a red streaked draft, at the very least it creates A Precedent. I know for a fact that I have what it takes to finish big projects, and that means a lot to me.
But oh I tell ya, this terrific and awesome ride scared the bejeezus out of me. I regularly went from being super-excited about it and utterly in love with what was happening, to feeling like I was trying to smear “geeewd storaaah” across the wall with the bloody stumps of my fingers. I knew I’d mutate into a creative pendulum, but it drove me bonkers to go from “This is freakin genius! Behold my creation and weep!” to “This drivel ain’t worth two damn bits and bytes, you awful wordage expelling troll. Guhh!”
I also learned a lot of really interesting and important things during these 5 months of intensive drafting. Here’s a good few of ’em:
1. Don’t go to battle without a plan
If you drop on enemy ground with just your high hopes and striking pair of blue eyes, you’re gonna get battered into the ground by some of the most insidious enemies a writer can have: loss of direction and self-doubt.
Outlining the novel and working with writing goals and schedules to which I stuck with absolute
stubbornness dedication, has saved me from the temptation of editing before time, fiddling with the story’s scope and parameters, postponing the hard work for the sweetness of speculation, and other such writerly misconduct. I’ve written many thousand words on this story before this draft (a rough count would come to around half a million), but none of these amounted to anything resembling a fully formed story. And that’s because going astray when starting such a big endeavor like a novel without a good plan is practically pre-programmed.
Not everyone’s as fond of detailed plans as I am, but even a broad sketch of your path will do wonders. Not all outlines need to be huge lists of plot points and scenes, just as not all roadmaps come with street view pictures and bonus points at each juncture. But going in without any idea of where you’re headed and how you want to get there, ain’t too great either. And I’m looking at all the hardboiled pantsers out there who finish first drafts and think they made it through without a plan. Reality is that practically all of those first drafts are unpublishable and basically nothing more than extensive outlines in novel form, hundreds of pages of test runs. Why not cut the process short and, you know, plan ahead. Even just a little.
2. Characters rule! — but without a PLOT, there’s no tangible reality to their dominion
The toughest thing for me was to find logical, naturally developing sequences of actions, and letting causality take its natural course while still keeping things fresh and surprising (I hope), so I could show the changes in my characters on a factual background.
All major changes in fictional characters must come from within, but they must be triggered by their own actions or the consequences of their actions. I strongly believe that, and work very hard for it. Eventually, y’all will be the judges if it worked as I hoped it would.
3. When you’re in shark-infested waters, you oughta swim like a sonuvabitch
Not just the seemingly impossible size of the project can get you down and keep you from finishing, but also the feeling that all your output is crap and you’re the only one batshit enough to actually thing it’s a story, the more or less intentional discouragement from others who have failed before you, or worse, who succeeded and were sharply disillusioned, and sometimes life itself with all its other obligations and duties—all these things can drag you down and bring your fragile momentum to a halt.
The key to escape the dangers is to either be pushed by a downright obsessive need to create, or to just learn not to give a hot damn and keep going, keep going, until you get there. That’s pretty much what I did. And there were cookies waiting on the other side.
I also learned that until THE END is written at the end, there’s no fooling my mind into thinking this is anything resembling a novel. And it won’t be until others say they get it, that I feel I can actually call it one in public. Know what I mean? It’s not the size. It’s not… Look, Ma, I threw 100K of stuff together, I haz novel! It’s the function. If it works, it’s a novel. If it doesn’t, it’s practice.
And no, that’s not bad, it’s awesome! Writing is one of the few occupations where you can always put your failures to good use and not be less of a writer for it.
Bdee, bdee, bdee, that’s all folks!
I’m more than psyched to have finally wrapped this Story I Want To Tell up in a single place, and I can barely wait to start revising, editing and improving it. It’ll be a whole new sort of challenge, and I’m gonna sweat bullets of gold-pressed latinum bringing everything up to par with the expectations of my inner critic. But I say: bring it on!
Until then, though, I will read and play video games and watch movies like there’s no tomorrow. And I will keep you entertained with blog posts on juicy topics like aliens, genre goodies and things-that-are-writing-related-but-none-of-that-cheesy-old-two-pence-advice.
Thank you all so much for being supportive and sharing your own experiences with me, and for keeping me motivated and focused. I’m truly very lucky to know you all, and to be able to share this madness with you!