The first draft.
OK - maybe not exactly something to celebrate, but in a way it is. It is an accomplishment, getting to the end of a (very) rough draft of a novel. It is beginning something that was started weeks ago, something that was shoved aside when real life intruded, and yet something that I went back to each and every night.
Usually, about 3/4 of the way through a first draft, this little devil pops up onto my shoulder. Maybe you know him? He's the pain in the ass that sits there and whispers little niblets of encouragement such as:
"No one will like these characters"
"The plot is overdone and completely ridiculous"
"No one will EVER want to READ this garbage"
"Give it up now, you obviously don't have a clue how to write"
"Don't quit your day job, you no-talent hack"
Sound familiar? He shows up with each book and whispers the same things. And each time, I wonder (if only for a moment) that he's right. Maybe my characters are unlikable morons, maybe my heroine's too much of a bitch, or too stupid to live. Maybe my hero is a total ass that no woman in her right mind would spit on, never mind sleep with, or **gasp** fall in love with! What if my plot is lame and what if no one wants to read it? What if it totally sucks and I should get a job bagging groceries at the Stop n' Shop because I have no talent whatsover?
Then I reach up and flick that little crap weasel right off my shoulder.
Everyone has self-doubt, but when you're a writer, I think that self-doubt becomes super-pronounced and that damn little devil grows to be about 800 pounds, which is a lot of weight for one shoulder. It isn't just that I think it's terrible, I'll eventually put it out there for an editor to judge, or, once past that hurdle, a reader to judge. And what if they don't like it?
I also worry about running out of ideas. I see some great books and think 'Damn, how did XYZ think of that?' And why didn't I?
A first draft doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, it shouldn't be, and that's what makes knocking that stupid devil down to pint size easier to do. It's a relief to finish the draft, but I know the real work is only just beginning. In the beginning of this book, I didn't know Hugh and Miranda (the h/h of my current book). But by the end, I know them as well as my own kids. Now it's time to go back and fill in those details that didn't show themselves until now.
Back in college, I had to take a studio art. Not being able to draw stick figures, I took...(drumroll) Basic Drawing. I was in a class with artistes. They knew what they were doing. I did not. One project involved us being paired off and drawing a portrait of the other person. Now this was about 1/2 way into the semester, and I hadn't been as huge a disaster as I thought I would. Or so I thought. When I finished, I had a perfect portrait of the albino from The Princess Bride. I mean, a dead ringer for him. Only my partner was a very slim, very pretty young woman. Yikes. I apologized, but fortunately for me, she had never seen The Princess Bride. If she has since then, at least I apologized.
But, by the end of that course, I learned how to draw and found out I'm not a total art spaz. Which brings me to my point - I approach writing like I learned how to approach drawing. I do the big picture first, and then go back and add or erase details to bring them out. One drawing technique I learned was to black out the paper with charcoal (which is what this portrait assignment was), and erase out the highlights. When you finished, you have your subject. I did a teakettle once that came out looking so real I was amazed.
And that's how writing a book is to me. I do the blacking out until I know the highlights, then I erase them out (so to speak, I'm actually adding them in). It's a proces that takes approximately eight to nine drafts to perfect.
Even though I have work ahead of me, such as fine-points research, as well as finding and defining those highlights, it is an accomplishment to get to that last page and write The End at the bottom.
Now I take a deep breath, and a little break from the book, and work on another project. That should take a few weeks, then I come back and begin the editing stage. To me, that is actually worse than the first draft because I no longer have that just get the words on the damn page cushion. Now is when it gets serious. It can be overwhelming and that devil becomes the size of a Bigfoot.
But, just like that blacked out sheet of paper, it will get lighter and details will emerge to define the story.
I just hope it doesn't end up looking like that damn albino.