Your story is right THE FIRST TIME

by Ksenia Anske in


Photo by Brooke Shaden

This might sound like a paradox and a far fetched idea, considering common knowledge about the amount of rewrites every author has to go through to make final novel readable. Until last week, I was under the impression that true story comes out in rewrites. I felt like I have a vague idea where I'm going and that vague idea is improving with every Draft. What happened last week threw me off and made me rethink this. I started noticing that in Draft 5 I'd edit a sentence, then write a new one, and then discover that the new sentence is EXACTLY the same one I have written before, in earlier versions, as early as Draft 1. That felt trippy. It also felt like I came full circle, back to the original points that I've lost or dismissed in Draft 2 out of fear, in Draft 3 out of an urge to cut everything I could cut, and in Draft 4 out of perfection. Here is what I think this means.

Your subconscious knows better. The very first time you sit down to start writing, the first time you type up that sentence that starts your new novel, in Draft 1, it usually comes from a scene in your head that persistently wanted to get out. Before you get scared, before any thinking happens, it's pure emotion. And it's always right, it's why you want to write it down and share it with the world. But somewhere along the process all of our doubts start shadowing it, putting it in the corner, and then make us lose it completely. I think maybe that's the cause for writer's block - when we feel like the story is lost, that's when we don't know what to write about. This is just a theory, so feel free to disagree with me in the comments, but it feels right at this moment. Moreover, all of a sudden what Stephen King said in his On Writing made sense. He said that a story is like a fossil found underground, and all you do as a writer is gradually uncover it. So that first sentence, or those sentences that I would write again and again are points of anchor for my story that were always there, I just managed to lose them and find them again in the process.

Your story is a small thing, with big details around it. This is something that I have read about Fight Club and how Chuck Palahniuk, one of my favorite authors, came up with the idea. It started out as a short 7-page story published in the compilation Pursuit of Happiness, and only later it became Chapter 6 in the completed novel. The idea came to him after returning from a camping trip all bruised and being astounded as to why none of his coworkers asked him what happened. They all avoided it. Bingo. Remember what Chapter 6 is about? It's about the main character's boss not letting him to present at work because he's got a black eye. That's exactly what Chuck experienced when he showed up at work bruised. Emotion is the same, but scenario is very different. I've noticed the same stuff happen in my writing. Beginning of my Chapter 7 is the same as the very first idea I jotted down for my story way back in 2008. It repeated itself again in another attempt in 2010, then in Draft 1 it migrated to Chapter 4, and now finally it's back in Chapter 7 of Draft 5. How I didn't see this before, I don't know. I can only attribute my blindness to the fact that I'm writing a novel for the first time and am, of course, doubting EVERYTHING about it.

Your story is an emotional being. Every story is really a few characters being thrown into a situation and then dealing with it. Everything about it is emotional, because if it's not emotional, if it's pure facts, why read it? We read newspapers for facts. We read stories for drama. And, like every emotion, the first time we feel it, it's right. Before our brain kicks in and starts trying to make sense of it. So, no matter how crazy your first attempt sounds, it's the right one. Consider this. I don't know if you read Malcolm Gladwell, I do and love every single book of his. In particular, Blink. There he narrates a story of museum specialists who were called upon to identify an ancient statue, to confirm its authenticity. Every single one of them had an iffy feeling for the first few seconds they saw it, but then when they proceeded according to their established process, everything seemed to be legit. Needless to say, the statue was a fake, sorry to spoil it for you. Read the book for yourself, it's awesome. The point I'm trying to make is, all of those people FELT something before their brain kicked in. Evolutionary, we have been wired to feel and trust our intuition, to survive, to detect things and act quickly. Somehow along with being civilized, we lost this hunter-like ability and don't trust our gut as much anymore, yet we should. I think that's why the first time you write your story down, it's right. But it's hard to believe this, of course.

Having said all of this, I still wonder where this idea will take me. I suppose I'll see unravel in my second novel, trusting myself more second time around. But somehow in my gut I knew my story was right from that first moment I jotted down the first line. Then for 4 years I proceeded doubting myself to finally return back to it full circle. Fascinating. Did any of you have similar experiences? I'd love to hear in the comments. Please, please, please, with a cherry on top! So I know I'm not insane. 

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