With my revised manuscript with my agent, I’m launching into my first draft of my next novel. I’ve had some ideas about this one for a while, but only started writing a couple of chapters last month, when my turn came around in my writers’ group.
On one hand, this was a great way to encourage me to get the words on paper. I received almost instant feedback, and thank goodness the premise and direction got good marks.
On the other hand, it was terrifying to have someone—seven someones—look at something that rough. I’ve only been involved in the group for a few months, and everything else they’d seen from me was from my first novel and had been reworked a couple of times already. It was a good opportunity, and I’m glad I swallowed my pride to take it. Because they knew what my more polished work looked like, they knew where I was capable of taking this one and where I’d need help.
Starting all over is tough. For a year I’ve been working on a 300-page document, and now I’m back to zero. I’ve been editing the same characters, getting to know them better and better at every turn, and here I am creating something entirely new. It can be overwhelming when I think of how far this project has to go!
But then, I know I’ve been there. I know I’ve done it once, and I hope I can do it better this time around.
Already I can see that I’m tending toward some things that turned out to be mistakes last time. I’m recognizing them and pushing myself to fix them before they get out of hand.
For example, I tend to write a lot of backstory up front, while I work out the characters’ personalities. With my first novel, I was afraid I was writing a screenplay, not a novel with so much dialogue and I held back. Time and again, I was told to show a conversation, introduce the characters with the way they speak and behave. I’m doing that now, and it already feels stronger, like I’m getting to know the characters more quickly.
I also know that I struggled with where to start my first novel. I rewrote the first chapter from three different moments in my protagonist’s day. I’m open to that this time, and more willing to throw something away to get it right.
One of the best lessons I learned in writing my first novel is how important bold editing can be. As I wrote my first draft, I feared it would end up shorter than I wanted it to be. I threw in a couple of scenes just to add to word count. (Dumb, I know, but I was hoping a reader would see something more worthwhile in those pages than I did. They did not.) Even with those scenes, it was short. Over the course of my edits, I added something like thirty pages, then a few more, then stayed about the same, then dropped ten.
It took going all the way through my process to start to understand my process. First I need to spit out as much as I can, then fill in some gaps, maybe say the same thing four times, then go back and decide on the best way to present everything I need to include.
When I worked in the editorial department at Atheneum and McElderry, I was surprised when I’d see an author add in a couple of lines here and there, once the book was already set and copyedited. How were they sure they were saying things just right? Did they pore over each word that far along in the process as much as they did at the beginning?
What I’ve come to find, at least for my own work, is that those first drafts were when I was finding my voice. I wrote things I knew would be deleted, because it got me to the next stage. Eventually, I could make additions confidently, because I had a strong enough sense of my own style. There was no substitute for time and practice on that learning curve.
Some of that confidence is present in writing this novel, but each one is quite literally a different story. Even though I am the same author, I’m writing this one differently than I did the last. On a superficial level, the first was third-person, past tense. This one, so far, is first-person, present tense. They are the same genre, but every time I sit down to write, I am coming from a different place, hopefully a stronger place.
So I’m starting over, but not completely. I have a long way to go, but, even without being published, I have proof that the journey is worthwhile.