My First Novel: Stepping Stones in the Mire

I recently applied for a fellowship that had me rummaging through my files for a screenplay I wrote during graduate school. I began the screenplay during an Introduction to Screenwriting course and expanded it during an Advanced Screenwriting independent study. When I opened the file with the name of the screenplay I had worked on during grad school, it was as I remembered it – a bit of a mess but with some great visual scenes.

I set into work revising it for a few minutes and then something ticked in my brain. Wait – what was that other file in my screenplay folder?

I went back and there was a title I didn’t recognize. I opened the document and I remembered – I’d spent weeks rewriting the screenplay during the stint when I’d wanted to switch my graduate thesis focus.

This version – the revision of my graduate screenplay – was really good. The scenes were specific, the characters three-dimensional, the push of the story more likely to grab a reader or viewer and pull them in. It was surprising how big the distance was between the two versions. There was a leap from idea to execution, from mucking about and finding the story to telling the story with confidence.

Photograph by clrcmck
Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

I’m working on my first novel, aided by goals with my writing buddy, NaNoWriMo word counts, and nudges from writing friends. What I’ve found interesting so far is that I can already tell the difference between my original story concept and where the novel is headed. I spent quite a while brainstorming about this story, but nothing clicked until I sat down and started writing.

My worst enemy in this writing process is the voice inside my head saying that this is all crap. And of course this book will need to be revised. Of course. That’s when the book is really going to start to sing. I can’t catapult myself from one shore to the other via the clean air. I’m going to have to wade through the water.

Looking at an early and late draft of my own writing at this point, when I’m feeling adrift in a big project, has given me the drive to keep going. I’m confident that I can revise this novel and make it cohesive, deeper and brighter than this first draft. The strange trick is freeing myself to write without beginning that revision process too early, starting off an endless cycle of editing myself out of the story before it is even written.

How’s your novel going?

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