Yesterday I finished writing the first draft of my novel. It is a really terrible first draft. I’m not being modest. I’m not showing off, either. It sucks. The characters are weak and do things for no reason. They can’t even hold onto their names for the length of the story. The plot is unjustifiably baroque. There is much boring dialogue in which the characters say things like, ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ (I feel I ought to make them do a fish dance or die in pain as punishment for being so disgustingly dull.) Yes, it is that bad.
But you know what? I couldn’t care less. I have been trying to write this novel for years – this novel, any novel really. Since I was a child, I have been trying to write a novel, thinking that I should write a novel (how bizarre, really), and wondering if I ever could write a novel. And sometimes it feels like my whole life has been the process of failing to write, and learning to write, and failing again. In recent years, my novel-writing attempts have taken the form of a series of exciting false starts, which ended after 50 words, 1000 words, even 20,000 words and more, because I felt too lost to continue. I’ve tried detailed outlining (buzzkill) and total pantsering (scary). I even tried telling myself that it would be ok to stop being a writer and become a normal person instead, because I thought I just couldn’t DO IT. And then I did it.
And by doing it, I learned how to do it. Which is precisely the sort of annoying and unhelpful ‘writing tip’ I’d been getting from other writers all along.
Things that helped me:
– allowing myself to write a really shitty first draft. (Also see here.) I found this so difficult because I like to think I am a good writer… a published author… blah de blah… I forgot about how when I wrote my first short stories they were deeply, deeply shit. A first draft of a novel is not a novel. Writing is rewriting.
– trusting that the story would reveal itself if I just kept writing. It did. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Trust the process.
– forcing myself to write a lot, every day. I mean a lot. Rarely less than 2000 words. My highest word count for one day was nearly 10,000. Getting the story onto the page fast was very motivating.
– never looking back. I didn’t allow myself to revise and edit as I went along – hence the terrible dialogue and name changes and so on. I felt that if I went back, I would get stuck trying to make things perfect (or just, you know, not terrible).
– letting people know what I was doing. I posted my word counts on twitter and facebook. I got encouragement (thanks!) and it made me accountable.
Now, I hope I’ll be able to re-write this shitty first draft into something better. Something that I wouldn’t be ashamed for others to read. Already I am filling my notebook with ideas and thoughts for the second draft. I have a feeling this might be where the real writing of this novel will begin. In the meantime, here’s to me, getting closer to achieving an ambition I’ve nursed since I was a kid.