A Recent Realization
I recently had a friend say he was worried his writing “wasn’t intelligent enough”. I responded, “Eh, I figure ‘intelligent’ will show up in draft four or five.” And that’s when I realized that I am a very different writer today than I was when I was his age.
My fantasy novel tackles some pretty intense topics: war, tyranny, family, rebellion, death. When I was a teenager, I was convinced I was going to finish it by the time I was eighteen and it was going to be the best damn thing to be published in North America in the past decade. It would be deep and epic and people would argue about its true meanings over coffee in over-priced, all-organic coffee shops all over the country.
It was pretty terrible. Some scenes were salvageable, and there were definitely a few things I did right, but the story was not cohesive at all, the world was inconsistent, and the ending was a tangled up mess.
Also, there was the stress. Writing a “deep and epic” novel is stressful. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. It’s actually the reason that I haven’t finished that novel. After I completed the first draft in my early twenties, it lay on my shelf, gathering dust. I thought about it often, very often, but I couldn’t bring myself to break into the second draft because there was too much stress. Could I even pull off a “deep and epic” book? How do you do something like that?
At some point, I woke up a little. I focused on smaller projects, hoping to hone my actual writing skill—something I’d been working on since I was very young, but without the words “deep” and “epic” hanging over me, I found I was able to make progress a lot faster. I read books, I got critiques, I gave critiques, I attended class and talks, and I practiced. My writing improved.
As years passed, I got to the point where I’m at right now: books on writing are less helpful; I’ve read all of that advice over and over. NaNoWriMo does nothing for me. I’m working on a novel, and I’m comfortable with the first draft.
That isn’t to say I’ve learned everything I need to learn about writing, because that is impossible; God knows I’ve barely scratched the surface. But I have learned one thing that has made all the difference: the most important part of writing is revision.
That’s something all the books say, and it’s easy to read that and nod your head and say, “Yes, revision, I understand.” But it’s not actually something that really sinks in just from reading it or being told—it comes from experience. There is a certain part in your life as a writer when it finally clicks. I’m comfortable with the first draft of my novel because it’s crap—and that’s fine. Because I’m going to rewrite it, and it will be better. Then I will rewrite it again, and it will be even better. And so on. And that is such a comfortable thought.
I still have to work hard, of course; a second draft isn’t *magically* better than the first one. I still have to continue honing my craft. But I’m not stressing about it anymore. I know what I’m capable of, and I know what I still need to do, and if I continue to work hard, I’ll do it.
“Deep” and “epic” don’t even matter to me anymore as words. I am a writer, and I have a story to tell, and the message of that story comes through in the characters, in the moments, in the words I’ve written. If they resonate with the reader, it means I’ve done something right. If they don’t, it means I need at least one more draft.
That fantasy novel hasn’t been forgotten. It’s on the back burner, waiting until I’m ready for it. I’ve got an outline for the second draft. It’s a huge improvement on the first. The characters are stronger, more believable. The pacing is better. And, most importantly, my own expectations are no longer a roadblock, some impossible hurdle I have to try to overcome when I’m dragging my own self back down. Someday, I’ll shape this novel into what I want it to be. But that’s still a number of drafts away.