I finished the first draft of my novel on Monday. At least I think it was Monday. The days tend to run together for me, especially after a holiday visiting friends up north. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that I'm done with the first draft! I'm finished! Time to pop a cork and celebrate with cake and high-fives!
...Except not. Because the first draft is just that: the first draft. I mean, okay. I knew that, and I knew what I'd written needed a lot of beefing up, a lot of editing, a lot of reworking and rewriting and dramatizing. But I think I secretly imagined that as soon as I finished the first draft of my first ever novel, the skies would open and a chorus of angels would emerge from above and serenade me with trumpets, and Barack Obama would roll up in a carriage with a bottle of champagne and tell me I'd done America good. It's always disappointing when you expect fanfare and don't get any, even if your expectations were subconscious and delusional.
In reality, I met with my supervisor and he said, "Good first draft! Really. Now go home and make it better." Then I ate a cheese roll from Tesco, sat in the shade for a while, and took the tube home to Walthamstow.
I guess I didn't realize how overwhelming it would feel when I'd finished the first draft, but was still faced with all of this work I had yet to do. And it's not just a bunch of useless busy work, like searching for grammar and continuity errors. It's adding flesh to the bones of a story. It's dislocating the limbs so I can reset them again, so they'll work properly this time. It's building a story from beginning to end, one that makes the reader feel something, one that happens from the start, one that creates drama and conflict and romance and excitement. It scares me.
I'm scared because I'm worried I don't have the skills to inject my story with these things. What if I do it wrong? What if I don't know how? I worry that it'll never be up to my standards. These are silly things to worry. I've never done this before; why should I know how to do it from the start? I have to figure it out as I go, just as I did with writing the first draft. And I'm sure it will be fine. In fact I know it will. But it's so scary!
I'm scared of going back in and upsetting things, for fear I'll make them even worse. I'm scared of changing the characters beyond recognition until it's a completely different story. I know it won't happen -- these are my characters, this is my story, and everything I do to it will be my choice. I only want to make it better.
But what if I do it wrong?
Writing is hard. Everyone keeps telling me the hardest part is over, but I can't believe that's true. How could it be? Editing and rewriting 86,000+ words sounds pretty damn difficult to me. It doesn't sound like much of a walk in the park. But, I guess, neither was writing those 86,000+ words to begin with.
I think I'd better just accept that this whole process, from start to finish, is going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done, and will feel like being punched repeatedly in the gut most of the time. But it has been, and it will continue to be, one of the most enjoyable and utterly rewarding things I have ever done. If not the most rewarding thing I've ever done, in my whole life.