I am drafting my first novel.
As I said to a long-time, long-distance friend, "I dove into this writing career in the shallow end and scraped my chin on the bottom of the pool." Which was naive to say at the time. Now I realize I left my entire jaw down there, including a perfectly good set of bottom teeth.
Would I take it back? All the wrong turns I've made? Everything I've learned to do by doing it the wrong way first? No. Stupidly, some might say, I'm an optimist. I engage every experience as a learning experience, even the life-threatening ones. So what if I've been rejected a bunch of times, dozens of times, multiple tens of times? So have a lot of people. And every time I get that rejection letter, I look back at why the story didn't fit, why it didn't make it, and I continue on working. I make new stuff, more stuff, better stuff (I hope).
Since June of 2014, I have been to three writing conferences, joined two professional organizations, and been to one week-long workshop (which I've written extensively about). I've met a lot of writers, some who've agreed to help me. I learned advice that helps, some that doesn't, and some that I thought was universal, and then, earlier this month, I learned wasn't.
I finished the second draft of my first novel in late June, and had some really amazing friends who volunteered to read it and answer 17 questions. In early September, I'd heard back from five of them, and have enough feedback to start working on my third draft. So I have.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I've read a lot of writing advice books. I read a lot of blogs every day about writing, by writers, both well-acclaimed and amateur. Books and blogs on Editing, on Drafting, on Writing Literary Fiction, on the Philosophy of Writing (thanks, Margaret Atwood), on Writing Genre Fiction. So many! And all of them were consistent in ONE TRUTH:
PARAPHRASED: Your early drafts will contain a lot of extra stuff that no one wants to read, so take it out. Remove it. Everyone wants fast moving dialog with minimal tags and minimal action. Do everything you can to keep the story moving.
Well, reading every single comment from my five friends, I took this too much to heart, and reading the draft over, I agreed with their comments on what I did wrong. One of them said there was too much focus on pushing the plot forward and not enough character development. Well, I'd taken the introspective character development-y stuff out. Another wanted descriptions of the world and characters I'd created. Again, edited out.
All said, without the 100-page new ending, a full 30,000 words were cut from first draft to second draft. Now, I am Critic Number One of the first draft. But I also know how immensely important it was for me to write. I am also Critic Number One on the three parts of the second draft. The new ending is the only part I didn't ask myself, "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
And, you know what? That new ending had character development (yes, at the end), it had introspection, it had depth. It wasn't a rocket-ride through conversations with minimal tags that rushed you through a plot to get to THE POINT.
So what is THE POINT to all this? Even though I thought everyone was making this big rule, and boy do I love to follow rules, I needed to consider the novel I wanted to write. My genre fiction idols are Margaret Atwood and Jeff VanderMeer. I look up to them. I admire them. I want to pace my novel like them, develop characters the way they do, lead you through the story in their languid, prosaic way.
POINT IS: I was sacrificing the novel for the rules.
Sure, I guess you can do that. But I want to be able to read my book when I'm done with it and be proud of what I've written. I am writing a book I want to read, like every writer does. But if I'm not enjoying the language, if I'm not enjoying the character development, and find I'm just being yanked along the plot, I'm not doing myself justice as the writer I want to be.
Writing is dependent on the author's relationship with language, the story, and the medium. It is a labor of love. It is art, and like art, it has so many rules, all with dependent clauses and footnotes all over the place, leading to each author's personal conclusions. There is no one solution, there is no one way to do things. There is your way, there is my way, and there is each other individual writer's way.
This is what makes reading so great. This is what makes writing so great. Because our imaginations will us to write, and by writing we create stories, told only the way we can. And then the right people pick them up, read them, love them, connect with them, and then turn around and tell their own stories.
There is only ONE TRUTH in writing. And that is - to write.
And I'm doing that all right.