(photo credit: Great minds only need simple tools by Antti Kyllonen on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.)
I do this thing that I really need to stop doing.
Often, after I write a first draft (or part of a first draft) of something, I decide that it is crap and that there is no way I have it in me to make the changes to turn it into something better than crap and I’m not even sure I know what those changes would be because I’ve lost any knowledge of the point of said piece, if I ever even had any understanding of what I was trying to communicate through said piece of writing.
I used to throw out those first drafts. Then I started putting them on floppy disks, which I managed not to label and ultimately to misplace. Then I simply saved them in a Word file on my computer, which like most unused files on my computer, got lost in the depths of everything I’ve ever written (and if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve written a lot of stuff.) More recently, I started printing out whatever I wrote and filing it in a box that I never opened but often noticed, as it sat (sits!), closed, taking up about a third of my work space, on the far end of my desk.
Two summers ago, I wrote the entire first draft of a novel. I know that’s quick, especially for the kind of writing I like to do, but I had what I thought was a great idea, I didn’t think too much about it, didn’t plan or outline, started writing and didn’t stop until it was complete. Complete in the way a first draft is always complete. I knew it would need a full overhaul at some point in order to become a second draft, which would need more fixing and polishing, leading to drafts three and four and possibly five.
About six months after I wrote that first draft, I started rereading the material I had and trying to figure out how to turn what I had into something that I would be willing to share with others. In other words, how to turn a bunch of very loosely connected scenes into a novel that people would want to read and recommend to their friends. I worked hard at it for a few months, got sidetracked by some personal stuff and other work, and decided, when I finally had a free moment to get back to it, that it wasn’t worth the effort. The draft needed tremendous work and all of my ways of reworking it, that seemed somewhat viable, really made it worse and at second glance lacked the viability I previously believed existed.
I put the contents of the now marked-up draft, some new scenes, and pages upon pages of notes into one of those file boxes that is about six inches wide, 14 inches long, and put it to rest on my desk behind my computer.
Have you ever known somebody who had a box with their deceased dog’s ashes on a shelf in their family room? They aren’t ready to put their pal in the ground for eternity yet, so they keep the box of dog remains in a place that is visible but not especially noticeable. This is the way it has been with my novel draft box. For about a year and a half.
This morning I decided the time had come to put the ashes in the ground.
You no longer need to indulge me in this rather vulgar and far from perfect metaphor of the dog remains, as what I did next, one would never do with their beloved pet’s ashes.
I went through everything in the box, piece by piece.
My thought was that there might be something worth saving — a sentence, a page, some notes — so I’d read through what I had and toss everything except those few nuggets of brilliance (if they existed at all.)
Here’s what happened: I read a couple of rewritten scenes and then a couple of new scenes I’d written since the first draft and I put them down and I picked them up again and I put them down again. . .
And then I wondered why the hell I’d stopped working on this novel.
It was pretty good. For a first draft.
You always know a book is worth reading if you want to keep going, you want to read more.
I read my old stuff and I wanted to read more. I wanted to read the rest of the book.
So I guess I’ll be putting some effort back into the novel. I think there must be something there.
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