I started writing a novel in December of 2010 and finished the first draft (an unreadable 100,000-word mess) in June of 2012. I remember being embarrassed that it took me so long to finish (eighteen months!), but revision took even longer. I finished the second draft (rough but readable at 45,000 words) last month, after four-and-a-half years, and sent it out to some writer friends. One of them read through the whole thing in a month, leaving copious notes in the margin.
With every step I’ve completed in this process has come a strange but welcome confidence. Before I even started the novel I was terrified to even tell people I wanted to be a writer. Finishing the first draft was an endorphin rush, but after that faded away and revision purgatory began, doubts crept back in as to whether the thing was salvageable, and the last thing I wanted was anyone to read it. Finally, last fall I resolved to throw myself into the thing and at least write a decent ending.
Something about that second draft flipped a switch in my brain. I actually liked what I was writing. Sure, there were some definite problem spots and it wasn’t ready to hit an agent’s or editor’s desk (or the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, for that matter), but I felt like I’d found decisive proof that there was a good story somewhere in there. It was like waking up to find that Santa had eaten the cookies you’d left. He does exist!
Then, Sunday night, I got the email attachment from my friend. The copy of the draft with her 1,430 comments. I purposefully put off reading it for a couple days, excited and terrified. Plus I couldn’t commit more than an hour or two at a time to it, and I knew once I started reading it, I wouldn’t stop until I’d read all the way through. I ended staying up two hours past my bedtime on Wednesday to finish, and am I ever glad I did.
Everything she wrote, from her raw reactions to her predictions to her snarky (hilarious) comments to her frustrated keyboard-mashing (either at characters’ actions or author’s negligence/apparent stupidity) was helpful. The praise and the critique both. The next morning my sleep-deprived brain was buzzing with ideas to make the story better. It was amazing until the headache hit around 8:00pm and I went to bed.
I used to keep my writing very close to my chest. After entering high school or so I stopped showing it to anyone. I still can’t write with someone else in the room. Sometimes, when writing longhand, I write in extremely tiny letters so I don’t have to face the insipidity of my first-draft voice unless I squint.
No, my second draft isn’t perfect. But the Mythbusters proved you can polish even a turd, and I’d like to get this one to at least a good shine. Thank God for supportive writer friends who take time out of their lives to help me do this.