I spent just over three years writing the first draft of my first novel ever: three hundred-ish pages of dark comedy, darker tragedy and real life experiences thinly veiled in fiction.
I was preening like a kitten when I finished it this fall. I even thought of a really great last scene – and the perfect closing line. It was a totally fulfilling, empowering experience. I had done it. It was only a matter of time before I’d be crowned America’s newest contemporary literary genius. Once published, my dark, comic tale of a fragile heroine ravaged by cruelty of life’s day-to-day grind would become an underground hit. Then Oprah would read it and immediately announce she was coming out of retirement for the sole purpose of reviving her Book Club just to share my genius. (YOU’RE getting a Pulitzer Prize and YOU’RE getting a Pulitzer Prize and YOU’RE getting a Pulitzer Prize!)
I felt like pretty hot stuff.
“I finished my NOOOOOOOOOO-VEL,” I’d tell friends when they asked what I’d been up to. I said it in a snotty, self-mocking tone proving I knew how pretentious it sounded. Secretly though, I didn’t care if I seemed like a braggart. I wrote a novel. I felt entitled to boast a little. I’d spent hundreds of hours staring out windows, crying over lack of inspiration, reading excerpts at my weekly writing group, staring out windows again and, of course, actually writing. And then, finally, it was done. It had seemed like an insurmountable task, but I had surmounted it. I was an inspiration to aspiring novelists everywhere.
“That is SO AWESOME, Liz!” said my best friend. “I’m so proud of you! Can I read it?”
That shut me up pretty quick. You could almost hear the sound of my self-satisfied smirk melting away, like ice going soft and collapsing at the bottom of an old fountain soda cup. Flurp.
“No, you can’t read it,” I said, annoyed.
She looked confused.
“No one can read it,” I said. “It’s a first draft!”
“Oh,” she said. “That’s okay! I don’t care!”
“No!” I fumed. “It’s not… readable!”
It was the first time I’d even admitted it to myself. I wrote a book, but I couldn’t give it to anyone to read. It was a mess. There were dozens of pages of alternate story lines in there that I wasn’t using anymore. My main character had every job from psychiatrist to product tester when I was still figuring out who she was. There’s stuff I wrote in there three years ago that makes absolutely no sense with the brilliant ending that I wrote in September. If anyone opened up my “book” right now and started reading, they’d be seriously confused, and not in a cool ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ way. I’d rather eat all three-hundred pages of my book one by one than let my closest friend read it, let alone a legitimate editor or publisher. If Oprah and Gayle’s car broke down in front of my house right this second and the ladies asked me for something compelling to read while they waited for a tow truck, I couldn’t give them my moldy old orange binder half-filled with genius and half-filled with miserable junk.
Then I remembered that old adage: “Writing is rewriting.”
So, I guess I didn’t write a book after all–not yet. Once I finish this next draft, though, I’ll definitely have written a book – when I can give it to someone to read.
Back to staring out the window and crying for a couple more months. Times a-wastin’ and Oprah’s ill-fated Chevy Impala could be right around the corner.