Actually, the title to this post should be, “What it’s really like to finish your first draft.” I’m nowhere near being finished with my novel. Right now, it’s sitting in the bottom drawer of my desk, gathering the omnipresent dust we have here in Southern California, waiting to be revised.
But, for those of you now slogging through NaNoWriMo, I wanted to offer you some encouraging insight on what it’s like to write, then finally type “The End” on your work-in-progress.
You’re going to want to stop in the middle. This has happened to me with every novel I’ve attempted to write. I’d get about 100 pages in, then give up. The middle is hard. They don’t call it “sagging” for no reason. Your characters have mostly been introduced, your climax is still chapters away, and you don’t know what the hell to do with these people wandering aimlessly around in your mind. What I did to get through this part was to work on my characterization and dialogue, and to make every scene relevant to the big reveal at the end.
Your characters are going to develop a voice of their own. I am a pantser. I only go into my work with a very basic idea of the plot and I let my characters direct the narrative. This usually ends up with some random tertiary character taking over at some point and stealing all the shine from my protagonists. I did my best to beat those characters back to a bloody pulp in this novel. It was hard, because I love me “some gremlins” but this story was about Eliza, so I listened to her. For the first time, I didn’t want my heroine to die by the end of the third chapter.
Resisting the urge to edit is hard. This is a controversial topic, but I thought I’d throw in my thoughts. I used to re-work pages and paragraphs as I wrote, rearranging sentences minutes after I’d written them. I’d spend hours doing this. These were hours that I could have been using to advance my plot, write new words, and get the damned thing done. I’d eventually get bored reading the same thing over and over, then I’d rage quit. If you want to edit as you go, that’s fine. We all work differently. All I’m saying is that this novel is the first thing I’ve written where I didn’t want to pull my hair out for using too many commas in my first paragraph. I’ll worry about all that tomorrow, which leads me to my next point:
First drafts are supposed to be messy. That’s why they’re called “rough” drafts. People, places, and even horses have changed names in my story. That’s going to be a fun cluster to figure out when I get to the revision stage, but I blasted through anyway. There are going to be sections of my novel I’ll completely scrap. It’s going to resemble a rewrite in some aspects. In my opinion, you’ll have more gumption to actually do something with your work if you get through the first draft. No one ever has to see how embarrassingly awful it is.
Writing is not romantic…except when it is. Writing is work. It’s just like any other job. You get up, you go to your computer, and you make the words. This one came to me pretty easily. Most of my work in the past has felt like torture - this one felt like falling in love. My house went to shit. I hardly slept. My cats barely got fed. My daughter thought her mom had gone insane because I only spoke in sentence fragments. I thought about my hero way too much. I think the difference this time was that I actually loved my story and my characters. Some days it was still difficult, but when the creative flow hit, it hit me hard.
How is your writing going? Are you struggling with the process of finishing your first draft? I’d like to hear all about your experience in the comments.