I’m a short story writer. I love the form – the challenge to write a complete story in limited space. It’s almost a security blanket of a sort. My happy place. My safe space. Anyone who knows me well, knows I’m terrified of writing a novel. There is video evidence of this, where you can quite literally see the fear in my eyes all the way through this. The scale and scope has always put a fear in me. But something strange happened on the way through the pandemic. I wrote a novel. Not only did I write it. I loved writing it. Loved the characters and the shitty paths they have to take. The monsters I created and the mythos I imagined onto the page. And I did in just under two months.
Let me say again. Novels terrified me.
In early March, just before the pandemic hit, I managed to slip a milestone birthday through just before everything got locked down. My best friend, Devin Madson, made the journey from the wilds of regional Victoria up to Sydney to celebrate with me (she’s amazing like that).
Dev has been a constant in her “write the novel!”, as she knows there’s been one percolating for a while. Her support and understanding, her talking me through the fear and her kicks up the bum have edged me ever closer to taking the dive. Then, and I have the exact day – May 20 – I started. I finished July 17. All 139,454 words of it.
Aaand, that’s where the title of the post comes in. You see, I didn’t write ‘End’ on this draft. I didn’t ‘finish’ in the dictionary sense of the word, or probably in a lot of people’s sense of the word, but the draft was done.
The draft wasn’t finished yet it was.
I had a moment, rather, a lot of long moments of: I can’t be finished because I haven’t written ‘End’ on this baby! A stubborn part of me insisted THERE ARE RULES! THIS IS HOW IT WORKS! KEEP WRITING UNTIL ‘THE END’! Yet the Muse was sitting back, arms crossed, shaking their head – nope, we know how it ends, there are front and middle sections that don’t hold up to that end, this draft is done.
The Muse was right. So while I didn’t ‘finish’ the draft, I finished the draft.
I’d been so caught up on how I believed a novel should be written that I was forcing myself to push on when I didn’t need to. To force myself to an end I knew, and believed I had to get down on the page even when it sat well formed in my head. I knew the destination of this story, and those last few steps along its stones weren’t needed for it to be complete. I’d also written scenes within those final chapters – steppingstones to the marks I needed to hit.
Look, this is all a learning process for me, and while I work as an editor with authors on their novels, and know how this process works, advise how this process works… it’s a different beast when applied to oneself, especially when deep in the throes of those final chapters where you can see the end just beyond the hill. It’s so close you can almost touch it. The veritable gold at the end of the rainbow. Yet looking back, I had a bunch of gold along the way. Pieces I’d stashed in character and dialogue, in worldbuilding and plot-promise. I didn’t need the hoard at the end to know the draft was rich enough to move to the next stage. That mind-shift was necessary to understand that this draft was finished despite not writing ‘End’.
So the weekend was spent honing motivations for my two MCs (my storytellers), and three others who have major impact on the plot. I’m very close to finishing the chapter summaries that will guide and focus the second draft of The Novel (still no working title). I also have a family tree for the gods of this world, and an overly detailed mythos (worldbuilding is way too much fun it seems and I can get distracted…).
This has been a hell of a learning curve for me, but it’s also been a joy. And if you’d said to me three months ago that I’d have the first draft of a novel done by July, oh how I’d have laughed at you. If you’d told me three months ago that not only would I have a novel draft completed, but that I’d enjoyed the process and that I thought the draft was good, I’d have thought you mad.
Admitting the draft is good is a difficult thing, especially admitting it openly. I’ve been taking some big steps here, and as such, I’m going to start a series of blog posts detailing the process I’ve taken to get here. My process isn’t going to work for everyone, hell, it might not work for anyone, but if someone can get something from it that may kickstart them into tackling a novel (or a trilogy – yes, I’ve jumped with both feet), then that would be very cool.
Right then, I’m off to join the very broken Wren and the very broken Seda in their very broken world.
If you take nothing else from this post, know that you can write that first draft too, no matter how terrifying the thought of doing so is.
Also, fuck. Because it’s not a post from me without at least one curse word.