After toiling away at the first draft of a novel, pouring so much enthusiasm into the beast, heaping tremendous amounts of your own brilliance into your storytelling with an assortment of carefully chosen words and plot development, expectations can run high.
You carve out a piece of your soul, pour your worth into the creation of this epic (and they’re always epic) story, bleeding all over the page.
The deft handling of complex narratives is there. The characters were drawn – no, they were ripped from an alternate history and pushed into the infinite fractals of a setting deeper than this tawdry shell of a world we live in. Every word resounds with the life-altering themes and mantras that will send readers into an existential crisis and have them ponder if they themselves aren’t in fact, a character that you’ve written. It will send them mad with mysterious mysteries of mystery, putting questions in their heads they can never answer, but that will haunt them each night as they struggle to numb their curiosity just enough to let them rest.
You have in a mere few months created a piece of humanity that will stand immortal. The they that have always tried to stop the great ones have been proven wrong. They always said it couldn’t be done. They always said there were no new stories to be told. They were wrong, because you have been done. It’s not merely a great story that you have there, but a new one. Completely and utterly new. There are no worn tropes, yet it will ring true for everyone who reads your words. More than that, it’s the definitive story. The one that brings meaning to the lives of all those who know of what you’ve written.
Ah, but there’s naysayers. Are they part of the they? Of course they are. You know that they didn’t really read it. That, or they’re not ready, they don’t know writing and should go back to watching their reality TV and reading celebrity tabloids. The criticism is wrong. It has to be.
You want to prove them wrong, but there’s nothing you can do. Sure, you could read it yourself, but why would you need to do that? You wrote it! In fact, you wish you had the luxury of being able to read it as one of them, a mere mortal, a plebian eye unable to appreciate the brightness of the sun, instead of the avatar of storytelling that you are.
Yeah, same here.
Finally, you relent. You realise that while there’s no real point in you, the author, saviour of literacy and reincarnation of the first human that used language, actually reading your own novel, you can at least humour the unfortunates incapable of seeing your undeniable gift.
Strangely enough, it seems maybe the version of your novel you sent out is one that was corrupted by your word processor. There’s a typo on the first page, where that non-Mary-Sue-but-still-an-everyman-but-uniquely-so protagonist hears a nose. While such an occurrence and ability befits the non-overpowered-yet-unbridled-talents of your main character, you distinctly recall it was a noise that they heard.
So there’s a few scratches. Even diamonds of the highest grade of clarity could have some imperfections that are only visible beyond 10x magnification, and isn’t that what you have? It might even be the case that while you can’t recall doing so off-hand, you purposely put those imperfections in because you know that otherwise the existence of your novel would end the need for any further works of art to exist.
You read on. There’s other parts of your novel that perhaps don’t sit as well with you as they first did, the confounded bug-prone word processor has removed or muddled a myriad of words throughout what should have been your first-and-final-draft, and there’s a growing sense that while it’s still undoubtedly perfect, brilliant and whole, there’s something missing.
It could be worse.
In a completely unintended consequence, your novel has made one reader come to grips with their humanity. Maybe that was your point all along, the thing you were trying to achieve. The difference is that it’s you that is the writer and the reader at once, that receives the lesson.
Let’s us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.
Except your brilliance. Completely remove it from this stage of your writing. It doesn’t belong.
You will read your novel and think “What the frak was I thinking?” It will be worse than you remember writing, because when you first write, your mind rolls the idea around your head, so that whatever words you put on the page are laden with the same images and feeling that you want them to. Once you’ve moved on, that link between the intent and the words is lost, and you’re instead reading the words as they are. If you’re lucky, you’ll remember how the lines were meant to make you feel, and you may even get them.
A lot of what you read will be writer-you plodding through ideas that you thought you handled well, that approximate what you wanted, but that are decidedly average. Your words will have fallen short of your target, and at best you’ll be able to appreciate the utilitarian nature of the way you’ve expressed yourself. It may not do it exceptionally, but the writing is adequate, enough to do a job.
It’s in the averages that you’ll see glimpses of the novel you thought you were writing, and if you’re able to divorce your ego from the writing process, may actually have a chance of writing. These passable passages will still be able to take you through the story, make you laugh or cry, and not just as coping mechanisms for reading through a shitty first draft. There’s still enough good in your first draft to move forward with, but you need to manage your expectations.
If it tells everything it needs to, if it’s readable enough that you can go through it and follow what’s happening, if in spite of wanting to change all but a few lines… then that’s a fantastic start, but should only ever be a start.
Update on For More Than Earthly Ends:
I’ve started reading it. I had already come to terms with it being a first draft, but it has a lot of issues. Already I can see things I want to change, but I’m following my previous post Beyond the First Draft, and reading through it all first. It’s a safe read so far. It does things okay, but not the way I want to keep them. The simile I used when explaining my read-through to my wife, is that it’s like an experimental dinner where it gets you fed and is tasty in bits, but you know you haven’t quite got the recipe down.
I’ve already grown a little emotional while reading it, seen perfect opportunities to introduce characters earlier or explicitly state their names when they first appear, a lot of room for growth even beyond the line-edits that need to be done. About 20% through my first read-through, and finding it readable enough despite its problems, and yep, that feels like a successful first step to me.