Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rough Draft or Backstory

Sometimes I'm wrong. There, I admitted it. I have the humility to say I may not have understood all the facts and the rough draft of my novel wasn't a literary masterpiece. Nor was my second draft, third draft, or God forbid, not even my fourth draft. What I did find out during that process was where the story really was.

I started out with the idea of guy in his early forties who has lost his joy in life. He's looking for something to make him feel alive again. No, autobiographical implications there! Ha! And his story takes him on a journey to find his joy. It's a little like my own life of losing my job from "downsizing" and deciding to give this writing thing a shot.

So, I wrote the first draft. I did some editing, reworking and then finally let a couple of fellow writers read it. I got great feedback. I took what I learned and went back to fix some things, make some things clear and up the stakes a bit. Then I got more people to read it. My first two readers graciously offered to read it again and also another writer, an avid reader, and my sister.

Again, I got great feedback, but something was different this time. Self doubt kicked in. Suddenly I didn't think it was as good as I'd originally thought at all. It still needed work and I was ready to be done with it. I don't mean done with it in a bad way, but I had another novel brewing in my head and I was anxious to get this one out into the world. I was fully dilated and ready to give birth. Except it was just gas.

I had been working on the novel for about four years at that time and I felt people rolling their eyes whenever I mentioned the novel. It was "shit or get off the pot" time.

I have a dear friend, who is a successful, published writer, who kept telling me to take my time. Don't rush it. It will all come. I took her writing classes, did workshops with her, talked her into teaching me about revisions (which I hated at first). I tried to soak up as much as I could and use what I learned in my writing.

Now here's where my humility comes in. I thought maybe everyone else's rough drafts were only the beginning, but mine just needed a little polishing. Never mind the fact I couldn't really tell you what it was about in two sentences or less. My elevator speech would have had to be in the Sears Tower elevator being hand cranked up to the top.

Every writing book and teacher will tell you the rough draft is the beginning. It's the lump of clay needed to sculpt The Thinker. It's not even close to the finished product. It's only clay.

After letting my novel sit for about four months and trying to look at it from different angles, I think I've finally seen the light. The first half of my novel is essentially backstory. At first that depressed me, but now I see what the story is really about and I can build on that. Now I know which characters are significant and which ones have their own stories to be told somewhere else. None of what I've done is lost, it just might not have a place on these pages.

So, I have to thank my friends who continued to believe I am a writer, even if I couldn't bring myself to write. I'm on my way again.


  1. "Except it was just gas" has to be the best line I read this week! Brilliant!

    I think you learn metric tons from every new project, every abandoned project, and especially every finished project. And giving yourself space between edits is an unspoken (often unpracticed) truth.

    A finished novel is never a destination. It is just a brief signpost on hopefully a long journey. Keep writing!

  2. This is such a valuable lesson you have learned (and shared)! It's so hard to edit ourselves and know what needs to go and stay. I second guess myself all the time (and haven't always made the right decision). Trust yourself and the process. You ARE a writer and in time everyone will get a chance to read this great work. Bravo!

  3. So how do you get past the feeling that everything you write is shit? Does every budding novelist go through that?