Today I finished the first draft of a novel I've been working on for about six months, tenatively titled Human Blood. (Macabre, right? Hehe...)
I love writing first drafts. Not that it can't be challenging in and of itself, but the first draft is like a roller coaster to me: fun and exciting, and you have no idea what's coming next. I don't generally know much about my story when I start a first draft. I'll have a few vague ideas, but no clue how I'm putting them together. Maybe I'll know the beginning. Maybe I'll know the ending. But I never have any idea how I'm getting there.
When I started Human Blood, I had only one scene and one character. There was blood and death, but I had no idea how it happened or what it had to do with my narrator. Originally, I had envisioned it as a short-short, a teasing little piece of flash fiction. Six months and 94,000 words later, I clearly can't call it that anymore!
That all changed when I took the piece to a writer's group that I participate in. After I read it, I was peppered with questions about who my narrator was, why she acted the way she did, whether she was crazy or not, whether she was possessed, etc. (I wasn't offended by these questions. My narrator's behavior was, shall I say, a little outside the mainstream.) At the time, I didn't have any answers to these questions. But my mind--being the weird and strange place that it is--started to chew them over. And I started to write.
So when I say that I had absolutely no idea where the story was going when I started, I'm not kidding. Writing the first draft has been a big, exciting adventure for me. You open up that MS Word file for the first time, and the possibilities are limitless. All avenues are open to you. The sky's the limit!
But if first drafting is a big, exciting adventure, revising is like solving a Rubix cube or a Soduku puzzle--neither of which I'm any good at! Six months ago I had no idea where the story was going. Now, I know exactly who these characters are and why they've acted the way they did. But I know the story has rough spots; I already have a sense of what some of them are, and I'm going to work on them. Others, I won't figure out until someone actually reads the story. But the possibilities are no longer endless. To make this story stronger, I have to work within the framework of what I've already created.
So maybe the Rubix cube and Soduku puzzle weren't the best metaphors. It's more like Jenga--that game where you attempt to remove individual blocks from a tower without knocking over the rest. It's one thing to copy edit and wordsmith. It's another to change entire scenes. If I change a scene on page 50, how is that going to affect how things play out on page 200? How can I do this without messing up the rest of the story? Jenga. Also, there's no one right way to do it. What doesn't work for one reader might be the best part of the story for another. Who's right? Who's wrong? What do I do to keep from strangling people? Revision, for me, is scary and frustrating and makes me want to pull my hair out.
But I know this is a necessary part of the process, and I know if I want to make that transition from "hobbyist" to "professional," it's something I must do. So I'll suck it up, and I'll do the best I can. And meanwhile, I may work on another first draft just to break some of the tension inherent to my revision process. I have another idea bouncing around in my head, and it's a little lighter and funnier than the one I've been working on.
Something tells me "light" and "funny" are exactly what I'm going to need while I'm revising.