At almost every family function I attend it is a given that at least three relatives will approach me, merely to make conversation, and politely ask about my writing before mentioning that they’re impressed that somebody my age could commit to writing a novel. I always smile and shrug and say, “Thanks,” before giving them a one sentence summary of what I do and what I’m writing, so I don’t have to deal with their transparent disinterest and they can go off and hammer four to eight beers. It’s the equivalent of a carpenter laboring over a job site in the hot sun for twelve hours a day and, when asked about their work, summing it up to, “Oh, I built a house.”
Few truly understand how trialing it is to write a book. Many outside of the literary community would look at the task of writing a novel as something they’d consider impossible for themselves. Meanwhile some (unpublished) writers have the warped notion that it’s as easy as churning out a first draft. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. It’s difficult, but not entirely out of reach for the average, well-read person to accomplish.
I wrote my first novel at the age of 22, after having lost nearly $10,000 on a movie that never came to fruition and abandoning my violent ex-girlfriend following a disastrous four-month relationship. Needless to say I wasn’t in the best spot emotionally. I was at my lowest point; broke, isolated, and stripped of a creative project that I had dedicated much of my time and energy into.
To crawl out of my slump I began searching for writing prompts. Other than the script for my failed film project, I hadn’t written anything in months. When I started the initial draft of Disorderly—my debut novel, which at that point was intended to be a short story, I was rusty. My writing was shit. It took four drafts of this story about a cancer patient infected by a man with a peculiar disease to finally hit the mark of decency—and by that point, the idea had developed into something greater, something that I couldn’t contain within 10,000-words.
Writing the first draft of a novel is intimidating. It primarily requires two things: self-confidence and discipline. Without both you might as well close your laptop and pick up a job application for the local Dunkin Donuts (or Krispy Kreme, or whatever the fuck your local donut and coffee destination is.) If you do not think you can finish a draft and produce something worthwhile then you are not a writer, you are someone who wants to be a writer. You will never be a writer unless you correct that perspective and do away with your doubt. By the end of the process you will know if you’ve created something worth reading or worth burning; save your judgments for the publication.
Writing your first draft is a lot like having sex for the first time. You know how it starts, you know how it ends, and until you reach your climax you’re just kind of doing what you think you’re supposed to do. You play it safe, you go through the motions, you might improvise with new ideas here or there, but overall the finished product comes out a muddled mess. But it looks spectacular to you! You wrote an entire manuscript. Give yourself a pat on the back. Hard part’s over, right?
No. God no. It’s not even close to over. As a matter of fact, you simply layered the foundation of what will be your book. There’s literally nothing more insignificant and significant than a first draft—and that’s one of the most frustrating parts about the process. You will essentially write 3-6 versions of what you started off with, if your book is optioned for publication.
Revising a manuscript is incredibly stressful. Figuring out new ways to proceed with the storyline by removing sections that don’t jive with the book’s rhythm and drilling over hundreds of pages in search of inconsistencies will get to you over time.
It’s not the criticisms of the editor or the drastic changes that one must apply to their story or structure that makes them loathe their manuscript, but having to stare at it for hours at a time every single day of the week for over a year. It is psychologically daunting. As you’re rewriting and revising you will find new things you hate about your writing. Some legitimate, some far from it. Your style will change as you edit. Your style will change once you’re finished. You will evolve as a writer. You will understand the craft better. But it is up to you to apply your knowledge and newly keen eyes to your future works. It’s easy to fall back to the crutches of poor, sloppy writing and you must consistently avoid doing so.
If you can survive the editing process and have your book printed, though, your hard work will pay off—most of the time. You’ll have a solid, stress-free month once the manuscript is out of your hands and a fun week of self-importance once your book is actually released. To be able to hold something you’ve created, that you’ve spent a great deal of time trying to perfect, brings about an incomparable feeling of satisfaction that makes it all worth it. Then, once the sheen of being a newly published author fades, you can, at the very least, take pleasure in the fact that you have a book on your shelf with your name on the spine.