Don’t Look Back: A Retrospective of My First Drafts

don't look back.

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining. (Photo credit: mariaguimarães)

It is fall of 2012, and I am writing.

The new novel—the good one, the exciting one, the one I’ve been waking up at night to think about—is being written, and for these short weeks or months or however long it takes, I’ve caught lightning in a bottle. It doesn’t like being caught. It fights me. It turns back on the hands that hold it. It hurts, sometimes. But I’m getting it done. And the good days are so good. I’m going to win NaNoWriNo, but that doesn’t matter anymore because this is about the story. NaNo is just a bonus, a background note, a way to stay connected to other people. I know this draft isn’t perfect, isn’t even close, but that doesn’t matter, because right now I’m fucking flying. I remember all the things I learned from the last time…

…Which was 2011. I’m grinding my way through this messed up story, fighting it every step of the way. I know I’m being horrible to other people, know that I’ll pay for this hell-bent run later, but right now I need this. I need to go through the fire. The victories here are hard ones, and I make a lot of mistakes. But I’m resigned to that. Hell, at this point, I welcome it. I’ve made mistakes before.

Like 2009. The corpse of the half-finished novel falls dead from my word processor and I feel like a murderer. Or, worse, a failure. The mistakes I made this time around will keep me from writing long fiction for almost two years. I went too fast, I got caught up in the panic of the word count and competition instead of in the story. I finished NaNoWriMo, but crippled the story to do it, and I know in my heart that it’s broken beyond repair. In later months, I’ll return to the story time and time again, a killer returning to the scene of the crime, trying to put it right. Eventually, I have to drag it out back and put a final bullet in its head before burying it deep, putting us both our of our misery. I almost give up entirely, because this isn’t at all like….

2008, and I can totally fucking do this. I did it last year, didn’t I? And that was just a trial run. All right, the novel before that one was hard, but that’s understandable, because I was just learning. Now I know how to do this. Funny, people always said it took fucking years to figure out how to write a novel, but here I am and I feel like I know everything. Not like that kid last year…

…In 2007. I’ve done this before—sort of—but not like this. Not in such a short period of time. Maybe it will hurt my writing. Or maybe it will help. I have no way of knowing. Fed up with my own insecurity, I start to write anyway. Whatever happens will happen. I’ll be fine, I tell myself. After all, you made it through the first one.

Which was only six months before. For the first time in too many years, I have time to write, and I’m doing nothing. Just staring at the blank screen, waiting for something to happen. Too many questions—can I do it? Will I be good at it? Will I fail?—and absolutely no fucking answers. The screen doesn’t give me any, and I’m too goddamned inexperienced to know on my own. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared of failing, scared more of doing nothing at all.

But the universe hates a coward. I take a deep breath that calms me not at all, reach for the keys, and—hesitantly, badly, but getting better—start to write.

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Look Back: A Retrospective of My First Drafts

  1. Yeah, I’ve totally murdered good novel ideas by starting them too soon for Nanowrimo and pushing through the problems without really thinking about them (NO TIME! MUST FINISH). I like to think I’m more careful now.

  2. God, I hope I don’t butcher my first real attempt at a novel. I’ve shed the husks of a few brainstorms in the past, but I’ve been slowly developing a story for the better part of six or seven years that only this year made sense as a novel. If I ruin that somehow…

    I can imagine myself at the 2009 point, figurative meat cleaver in hand. That would probably stop my fledgling writing career cold as I still lack the momentum. Heck, this novel is my momentum. Phew! I’m glad I joined WordPress a week into NaNo, sparing myself even the temptation.

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