A Novel First Draft

I’ve finished the first draft of my novel. I have written 70,771 words (well, 70,769 if you don’t count “THE END”) over the last three years. Some of those words have been dragged out of me painfully over a number of hours and days, much like pulling the stubborn gunk and hair strands out of the shower drain. Others have positively pranced out of me; poured out at such a rate that I have felt like a bemused spectator watching my insane fingers fly across the keyboard and produce sentences and paragraphs I’d never have believed I was capable of.

So how does it feel?

On the day I finished, I typed the final words, pressed “Save”, then sat back and contemplated my screen and thought to myself, “So this is what it feels like.” Then the cat threw up. Later I opened a bottle of champagne but it was off, so I tipped it down the sink.

I felt a quiet sense of accomplishment, but other than that, no great rush of excitement. And I’ll tell you why not: The hard work has only just begun.

I am aware that of those 70, 771 words, roughly half of them may be marginally OK. The other half will have to be rewritten, deleted, expanded or altered entirely. A first draft, you see, is simply a limbering up of the writer’s muscles. A clearing of the throat before the real speech begins. A cracker with a smear of cream cheese before the main course. A fart before. . .you get the idea.

I blame Hemingway, who declared that “The first draft of anything is shit.” Not one to beat around the bush was our Ernest. I can’t imagine he’s be much fun at parties. But he had a point.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m quietly thrilled that I’ve got a story, and that, for the most part, it works. I love my protagonist. I love the plot. The ending moves me every time I read it. But I have many hours of rewriting, redrafting, recreating and perfecting ahead of me. It’s for this reason that I haven’t really celebrated what is, come to think of it, a pretty major milestone. I should be at least a little bit excited, so here goes.

First Draft. Yippee!

A massive pat on the back and a few nights of tipsy giggling are warranted. Then I might take a bit of a novel break and try writing some short stories again. (I wrote one this morning, actually. After months and years of plots and subplots and character arcs and thematic development and chapter plans, the feeling of wrapping up a story after a few hours and a couple of thousand words was…exquisite. The story’s pretty crap, but by god it’s short.) Then it’s back to work, redrafting and rewriting.

The next draft, Mr Hemingway, will not be shit.


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