The first time I tried to write a novel, I was ten. I rewrote those first eight chapters dozens of times. It wasn’t working. Maybe it would be more exciting if I added a baby dragon? Alas, that way lay failure.
Sometimes I wondered what I was doing wrong. Perhaps nothing? Wasn’t writing a novel supposed to be a grueling, multi-year process? After the baby dragon draft failed, I started another ill-fated revision.
Then I picked up a book on writing (time has unfortunately erased its title from my memory). It suggested writing “literary experiment”, not a “novel.” Novels are those perfect, polished things we see on gleaming bookstore shelves. “Literary experiments” don’t have to be beautiful.
This kind of self-induced semantic trickery seemed useful. So, I set the tortured novel aside and began a fresh “literary experiment”. I came home from school and wrote, laying one page on top of another in my file folder. I never looked back, never revised. In less than a month, I’d finished. The book on writing promised that “experiments” look remarkably like the first draft of a novel — and mine did. Ten gold stars for self-induced trickery.
It wasn’t a good first draft. I hate to say it, but despite opening the first chapter with combusting hair, even the final draft was significantly less than brilliant. But the hours invested in that novel were anything but wasted. I learned so much — about subplots, characters, endings, and that the solution to a sagging plot is not (usually) throwing in a baby dragon. I learned about finishing what I started.
For the first time, I felt the success of a finished novel. My novel. Layered page after page, thick and real. It will never be a masterpiece, but it was mine. A part of me will always be proud about it, even though I’ve long retired it to the bottom drawer.
NaNoWriMo always makes me think about that first book, even though I’d never heard about NaNoWriMo when I wrote it. Would I have finished if I’d been trying to write slow and careful, one perfect word after another? Doubtful. So November is an exciting month for me, thinking about all the pages that are being hammered out. Thinking about all the novels people will have, tangible, ready for revision come December.
What about you? Do you prefer a meticulous first draft, writing fast, or something in between?