Fears & Feelings: Finishing the First Draft

Unsolicited Opinions / Sunday, March 25th, 2018

I have a dear friend and former coworker (“ex-coworker,” if I’m being dramatic, which I often am), T, who once told me that she tried to edit her novel for, what was it? Seven years? Nine? Year after year she sat down and stared at the pages of her finished manuscript, but something stopped her every time. When I asked her about it once crispy-crisp autumn day during her lunch break, she said that she was content to “keep her daughter in the basement forever.”

That is, she doesn’t want to edit it because she doesn’t want to put it out there into the world because it’s close and tender to her. So, you know, trap it in the basement forever, right? At the time she said this, I was still young and flippant (ah! Last October!), and I didn’t understand what she meant.

But now I do.

What’s with my sudden swell of sympathy? What’s this culmination of insecurity, vulnerability and fear? Simple: I’m finishing the first draft of my trilogy. I only have a couple short chapters to go before Book Three is done. Soon it will be time to choose: send my book into hiding, banish it to the figurative basement of uncompleted projects where it will never see the harsh light of day? Or chop it to pieces, edit it down, polish it up, and send it out?

I am so much wiser than I was in October (lol), and I understand T and her book-daughter’s plight with utter poignancy in my advanced age. Because once I finish M&J (my trilogy), that’s it, it’s over. If I edit and send out the first book, what will happen? My creation, the daughter of my heart, will go out there into the cruel over-saturated world. And judging on the success of my previous endeavors, she will find no place in that world.

If I send out my manuscript, it will be with the same well-meaning fervor of Hogwarts trying to reach Harry Potter in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Though most of my submissions will probably be electronic, I picture the pages of my heart’s work tumbling onto some bored editor’s desk like so many owl-delivered letters down a chimney flue (If this is confusing, I’m sorry but also not sorry because you really should read Harry Potter.)

I’m in a downward spiral, and not just because of the ever-looming fear of rejection. In the midst of employment instability, sickness in the family, and general emotional angst, writing those three books has been my most treasured distraction.

Since September of 2016, even if I haven’t known how I wanted to financially support myself or live my life or what to eat for dinner, I knew how I wanted to spend about an hour every day: writing M&J. It’s been my anchor, my failsafe, the mysterious project that people vaguely know that I’m working on. Gave me a little of swagger. Imbued me with the smudge-faced pride of the underachiever.

It created purpose and meaning in a life that occasionally felt depressing and unproductive, and stopped me from feeling useless. I mean, I look around at the other 27-year-olds that I know, and many of them have careers, families, and cars that don’t make low yet keening noises like dragons awakened from a deep slumber every time they’re turned on.

But they could have all that all day, said I, because I am Working On Something.

My stomach is collapsing in on itself in fear as I write this blog post because it’s the first time I’m putting it into words, the strange and inescapable fact that my first draft is done.

The thing is, I’ve never done a project like this before. Aside from something very, very silly that I hand-wrote in a spiral notebook while listening to Evanescence in between 8th and 9th grade, I have never written a book before. Let alone done a…SECOND DRAFT.

Because that’s what’s next.

Like T, I have to consider the emotional duress of the editing cycle. How terrifying it will be to chop up paragraphs, whole chapters. How challenging it will be to fill in all the gaps of meaning and structure and theme. I have to think not only of the process of editing, and the fear of sending it out, but also the change to my daily schedule that will result. What will happen to my solid and unwavering habit of writing M&J, 800 words a day? How do I change my habits to accommodate the editing process? How do I make sure I always have the creative energy to be creating something new, something never-written-by-me, while still prioritizing M&J?

How do I keep going, instead of freaking out and keeping my daughter in the basement?

I apologize wholeheartedly to my 2.5 readers: I know this isn’t a very organized blog post. Let’s blame it on these three factors:  a)I’m in mourning for something ending b)I’m excited and terrified for what lies ahead and c)it’s hard to be organized when I don’t have the answers to my own questions.

Have you ever done this? Have you ever been terrified to end the first draft of a book you live? Did you keep going? How? Give me you (very solicited) advice.

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