First draft of new novel: Done. ish.

I struggled with making myself work on this book idea more than any other idea in recent memory. I had the core idea for a while, and started filling it out as time (and other projects) allowed, and some time back finally felt like it maybe might kinda be ready to work on.
I had the characters.
I knew where they all stood and their roles.
I had key pieces of action and drama and emotion.
I had an outline.

That’s at least as much — even more, with that something of an outline — where I’m normally confident enough in a story idea that I dive into it.

But it somehow wasn’t quite there.
It still felt like it was missing some nebulous something. Like it (maybe might kinda) still be a bit loose to start with just yet. And lord knows I’ve had more than enough projects started and then abandoned because they drifted part way through and I couldn’t get them back on track. And/or because another, shinier idea presented itself that I started working on it, instead. So I also didn’t want to risk diving in too early.

But I wanted to get going on it. And it seemed like everything I had wanted to include was there.

But I didn’t want to waste my time if I wasn’t going to make a real go of it.

But I wanted to get going on it.

But I didn’t want to waste my time…

As something of a tie-breaker, I tried an approach I hadn’t used before, finally starting Lisa Cron’s well-reviewed book Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere), to see if there was more I could do for the book idea before actually getting down to writing it. To see if I could find that something that may (or may not) feel like it was missing.

A big part of Cron’s suggested story preparation process involves putting your idea through various stress tests to see if it holds up in various ways, at least enough to keep it all cohesive and detailed enough to keep you from stalling out mid-manuscript.

Well… it passed those tests. Most of them, anyway.
And what it didn’t pass? Well… c’mon, thought I, this is at least as ready as I’ve been on other projects that I’ve finished.

My wilfulness won out.

I pushed aside Cron’s advice, and (I think more importantly) pushed aside my own uncertainties about the readiness of the idea, and I started to write it.

And what I found was not a) only was I not too excited to continue with it shortly after I had started (telling, perhaps), but b) it was something I had to make myself work on way more often than not — any professional writer will tell you that writing is work, that there are definitely days when even an idea you really want to see realized is a slog to get through, but I suspect those aren’t supposed to happen more often than the engaging, rewarding-feeling days of accomplishment from doing the work — and c) as I was finally rounding the bend toward the third act, I did a quick word count on the whole because it seemed like despite my struggles to get through it I didn’t think it actually had that much content to it, and lo and behold it totaled way, way less than even a short novel should be.

Somewhere in the process, I guess from sheer drive to get through the story, I had abandoned deviating at all from the thin outline I had started with. Maybe that was partly due to not being too excited about writing it after all.
But whatever the cause, the result was that there wasn’t much meat to the story. It felt like it was missing opportunities to broaden the scope of the whole, and that there was almost no detail or exploration of events and moments that could’ve — should’ve — been larger. The story I’d written was anemic to the point of barely being a viable story at all, let alone the energetic, dramatic whole that I’d pictured.

That was remedied somewhat among at least the final scenes, where I made myself sit and focus for longer and events slowed way down for me, and I took much more time and effort in making it better than I had with so much of the earlier work I put into it. So it’s undoubtedly the best scene of the story. At least currently.

I also have to pull a lot of very bitsy-piecey parts I emailed to myself over months, when I was out of town and away from my laptop (and the writing program I use on it). That all needs to be collected and copied and pasted into place.

So the first draft is legitimately done — it has all been written — but it’s not one cohesive whole as yet.

All of which, from disappointing early days of working on the new project, to it being done but only in fragmented pieces, may explain why officially finishing the first draft of this project today didn’t give me the usual elated high I get from finishing key parts of big projects like this. I was happy about it, but not particularly so. I think I felt more relieved than anything. Which may end up, again, being another tell about its overall quality and value to me.

I know there’s miles to go with it yet. First drafts are just meant to be getting it out of your head and into some (any) format that you can then shape and edit and mold and hopefully turn into a presentable finished piece. Primarily, one that you like. Secondly, maybe one that other people will like. Finally, one that will maybe even get you a couple of bucks, if such is something you’d like to get from your art (as I hope to in this case).

So it isn’t far from finally completed. And it’s far from good.
But at least for a first draft, at least for now, it’s good enough.