When I was writing my novel during NaNoWriMo last month, The Write Practice featured an article entitled “Why Fast First Drafts Aren’t for Everyone.” I didn’t think about that applying to me until now—nearly a month after completing my NaNo novel—but I now know that fast first drafts are not for me. In her article, Natalie Wenstrom claims:
“I’d just poured countless hours into getting my story down, but it still lacked critical pieces of backstory, character development, even some plot structure. I had a ton of work ahead of me. It took longer to go back and address these issues than it would have to think things through in the first place.”
This is precisely what I’m experiencing with my NaNo novel. I’ve been letting the novel sit and stew this month. I’ve been recording voice memos to myself of ideas and jotting down notes in my journal. This draft is all I think about. It’s become my obsession. I’ve always been an insomniac, but now that I have this sloppy first draft of an entire novel, my insomnia is even worse. And it’s great that I think about my writing like that, but the problem is that all I think about is how sloppy it is and that if it was done right the first time, the revision process would be a bit less painful—just like Wenstrom says in her article.
Earlier this week, I opened my Scrivener file where I wrote my draft and began reading the opening scene. I got four sentences into it and closed the file in frustration. The slop that I wrote, even though I wrote complete sentences and thoughts for the entire 50,000 words, is just not me. There are so many aspects of that draft that needs to be changed and researched and organized that I feel like shelving this novel and writing something completely new. Writing to fill a page to meet word count goals with sloppy sentences that lack description and emotions is not my writing style. My brain works in a linear way when it comes to writing. Being the outliner and plotter that I’ve grown to be, this sloppy first draft has showed me what kind of writer I truly am. The disorganization is slowly killing me, adding on to the restless hours I spend in bed trying to fall asleep. I keep fighting with myself in my head over whether or not I want to deal with the daunting task of sorting through the disorganization and creating my draft into a real novel. I change my mind about it multiple times a day. One minute I’m up to the challenge of organizing the chaos that is my first draft, and the next minute I want to forget I ever wrote it.
I was so energized and motivated before and during NaNo—putting scenes together that I plotted out and seeing my characters come to life. It was rewarding to meet my daily word goals and see my story go in directions that I hadn’t planned. But now that it’s time to edit and revise, I see how fast drafts aren’t for me. The quantity over quality notion doesn’t make sense in my head. I want things be right, and I want things in order. That’s how many aspects of life are for me: right and orderly. And to have this sloppy, disorganized first draft of a novel sitting on my desk is not only making me crazy, but also more sleep deprived than I’ve ever been.
At the end of November when I won NaNo, I felt so accomplished. I wrote a novel, I told myself and my friends and family. I felt like a true writer. But now when I revisit that novel, it’s far from fulfilling, and I feel like the world’s worst writer. My husband, always supportive of my writing, sees the torment that this fast draft has caused and said, “Maybe you should shelf this one and begin a new one. It’s not a waste. You learned what kind of writer you are.” He’s right. I did learn tons from writing a fast draft. The problem is, I can’t let this one go. It’s still all I think about. It continues to haunt my dreams when I finally fall asleep. I think that the driving factor for me now is to makes sense of the nonsense; to deal with the chaos and the slop and agony of sorting through it and making it into something I can share with others to enjoy.