So I had a little eye-opening realization earlier today. I was flipping through my first draft of my current novel, and it occurred to me how… bad it was. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but compared to where it is now, that was a pretty bad first draft.
You know that message I keep sending out to you? The don’t give up thing? Here’s another reason why you shouldn’t let go of your story.
At the end of my first draft, I looked back on this underdeveloped and overly problematic story. I looked back and I was discouraged because, to me, it was just one huge mountain that I was going to have to climb. And I thought to myself that there was no way that this pile of words would actually turn into a respectable story. Something that other people might want to read.
Every scene had some kind of plot changing problem and every character seemed flat. I know I’m exaggerating a little bit, but this is how it looked to me.
The biggest challenge we face as writers is ourselves. When you look back at something you wrote and it sucks, then you start to doubt. If it doesn’t turn out right the first or second or fifth time, we start to give up. We can get hundreds of bad reviews or hate mail, but it won’t tear us down as much as we can with our own heads.
That kind of comes with the territory. If you decided to write a book, then you have to put everything you have into it or else it isn’t going to become anything. You’ll tear yourself down before you can finish.
Here’s the trick: Who cares if it sucks right now? Nobody’s going to read it yet. When I look back on that first draft and then compare it to now, I’m looking at progress. And the changes don’t stop there. I see more problems with my draft and I don’t get discouraged anymore because I know I can fix them.
The only thing that mattered was that I cared about that first draft. The characters and the story and figuring out that ending. I cared. I put emotion into it. So maybe there were spelling mistakes and some parts of the story were kind of blurry and useless. Sure, the supporting characters were a little cliche and the really creepy parts were… well, never mind. Those parts were always creepy enough to climb into my dreams. The point is that all of those problems are bound to be there, and they can be fixed.
You can fix as many grammatical and technical problems as you want, but if you don’t care, if you don’t put something of yourself into your writing, then what you are writing isn’t real. Real feelings and thoughts are why people want to read. If you care, then you aren’t going to give up. Put everything you have into the story and then you can’t back away.
And it isn’t supposed to be easy. Writing is not supposed to be easy. It’s hard so that when you finish, when you are finally at the last word or last draft, you can look back and laugh or grin or cry or get whatever you needed from the book. It’s different for everyone, I think, but its the most amazing thing in the world.
And that was for my first, sucky book. I can’t wait to finish this one.
My challenge for you is to put something of yourself into your story, some emotion. Care. Don’t back down from the challenge. Stand up and finish that book if it’s the last thing you do. However terrible that pile of words in front of you looks, just know that if you really work, it can’t get any worse. It’s only going to be an uphill battle from here, but that also means that the story will only be getting better and you’re going to start see that work of art fall together right in front of your eyes.
You look at the books on your shelf, all edited and published and relaxing. It seems completely impossible to get this scrap-paper novel polished up into something as good as those books on the shelf. But you can. It doesn’t have to be like those other stories. It’s your story. It’s unique. There’s no way you can compare your writing to John Green or Ray Bradbury. That’s just asking to discourage yourself. Instead, look back at everything you’ve done.
You’ve created a world. Characters and places and events. Problems and solutions and emotions. You did that. Pat yourself on the back because, even though it’s just a start, it’s amazing.
Don’t give up. Just keep writing.
Really. Don’t think about it too much. Just sit back, take a deep breath, and write. It’s that simple.
“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!