Tuesday April 27 2010 1126 am
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Holy pages, I’ve done it. I’ve finished the first draft of my novel.
Back when eight-year-old “Jack” and five-year-old “Emmie” were five and two, respectively, I didn’t even know I wanted to be a novelist. I was mired in diapers and The Wiggles, and I wrote essays and blog posts and a couple of directionless short stories whenever I could find a few free minutes. (The stories were shockingly short on actual story and landed, appropriately, in the trash.)
Then, one day—I swear this is how it happened—three characters burst into my head and commanded my attention. “We are the beginning of a novel. We’ve got relationships, theme, characterizations, a zygote of a plot for you; you’re going to love it!” They were right.
For three years, I pre-wrote, threw stuff away, wrote, threw away, researched, wrote, threw away, wrote, researched more, threw away, wrote . . . you get the picture. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.
My kids have grown used to seeing me at the computer at all hours. They are accustomed to Mommy talking to Daddy about “Mommy’s book;” they’ve been incredibly tolerant of the same 114 songs I’ve listened to for three years that provide the audio inspiration I need for my characters’ story. (Sorry, I’m not spilling the beans on that one yet. If you’re one of the few people who know: shh.) They have even put up with the foggy head I carry around sometimes when I’ve spent four or five hours “in the book”—in my characters’ world—and experience temporary trouble mentally transitioning back into the real world when the school bus pulls up or it’s time to pick Emmie up at preschool. Because when you live with a cast of characters for three solid years, they feel as real as the people who live in your house or in any other community with you.
You might think that I can celebrate now, and I can. Briefly. The first draft now goes in a proverbial box for a month or so, and then I tackle it again. And this is where the more difficult work begins, because the truth is that my first draft is a Beast. The whole point of this draft was simply to get the story out. Now, in connection with the second draft, I’ve got to pay attention to everything I’ve been studying for three years (and am still studying) about fiction—structure, tension, conflict, character, dialogue, story arc, etc., etc.—and craft a novel that works in those ways but also retains its soul, whose characters remain the people who marched into my head and inspired me to write their story in the first place. Oh, and I’ve got to cut several hundred pages in the process. Piece of cake, right?
The next stages are going to be way harder than what I’ve already done. But you know what? I can’t wait to get started.
And while my kids may lose Mommy sometimes to people who don’t really exist, I hope that in exchange they are learning some lessons about hard work and pursuing their passions—no matter how long it takes.