Photo by Joel Robison
Yesterday I finished the last, 5th, Draft of SIREN SUICIDES, my 1st novel. I felt like everything in me turned upside down. Let me try to describe it. It was a mixture of terror, terror of failure, and some maddening exaltation, to the point of wanting to run around the house and jump up and down like crazy, and a sense of loss, sweet loss, like you experience when you fall in love and your object of adoration vanishes from your eyesight. Like a part of you is gone, but also that empty spot is ready to grow something new within you. A certain creative vacuum, if you will. I would want to add twenty more elaborate sentences here in an attempt to capture what it felt like, but I would rather you experience it for yourself. Because writing and completing your 1st novel does magic. Seriously, I'm not being corny here. Here is what's different, magically different, about starting to write your 2 novel (as opposed to your 1st).
My fear of the 1st Draft is gone. I simply know that it will be shit, and I know it's part of the process. Actually, if it will turn out anything but shit, I would be worried. I also know that the first thing that comes to mind is the right one, having been through 5 drafts and having come full circle. Some ideas I planted in the 1st draft, took out in the 2nd, forgot about in the 3rd, was reluctant to add in the 4th, eventually made their way back to the 5th one. Go figure. So now I'm jotting down short scenes that come to me about ROSEHEAD (title of my next novel) as they are, without any squirming or moaning over them or doubting or anything of the sort. What should I name my main character? I thought one morning. Lilith was the first name that came to mind. Done! Who should be her sidekick? A pet, a dog, a whippet. Done! What would be his name? Oh, he will be black and he will be... Panther. Done! I mean, it's incredible, the freedom that came to me. I know that I won't know what the story is really about until I'm done with Draft 1, so I'm free to start writing tomorrow, if I wanted, which brings me to the next point.
I'm free of the tyranny of planning. Okay, so with SIREN SUICIDES I freaked out about continuity, about character bios, complete with their dates of births and places they grew up and such other elaborate nonsense. I won't be doing it this time around, because now I know that no matter how many notes I take, how much stuff I plan, how meticulous I am and how many hours I spend on research, it will be all a huge gigantic enormous waste of time. Because all of it will change, and it will not change in the direction I will be able to predict. Hurray! The freedom! I can simply let it evolve and pick details out of the air as I go, without dreading the correct setting details, of the proper plot development, or the like. Who said anything about writer's block? I'm almost tempted to say that a way to conquer it is to drag yourself through writing your 1st book by the hair. Because it seems like each following book is easier and easier to write.
I can't wait to indulge in dialogue. Now, this won't make sense to those of you who don't know me. Those of you who do and who have read a bunch of my blog posts will know that one of my biggest fears is writing dialogue. Here are my favorite excuses. Ready? 1. Oh, English is not my first language, how can I! 2. Oh, I don't have a musical ear, I don't know how people talk! 3. Oh, (this is my favorite), my dialogue just sucks! If you were to ask me why, I would say, it just sucks because I said it sucks! And I would promptly run away, lest you poke any more holes in my carefully built up defenses. Now, I can tell you, all of these excuses are utter bullshit, because suddenly in sketching quick scenes for ROSEHEAD I found myself eager to dive into dialogue to cook in my own sarcasm there, making it sound biting and funny. I surprised myself. What the hell??? I can tell you what. SIREN SUICIDES was very personal to me, so I was locked into translating in my head from Russian to English to capture the flavor of spoken ideas that I grew up with in Russia. I did the best I could, but it would't let me go away from it and practice actual spoken English from ground zero. I feel like I can do it now, in my 2nd novel. Oh, I can't wait! (See how different this sounds from excuses above? Yeah...)
I already know how my 2nd novel will end. This instability in not knowing how SIREN SUICIDES will end until I finished Draft 4 was maddening. Not so with 2nd novel. Once I grasped the concept from a few disjointed scenes that I already sketched out, it became clear, and I didn't dismiss it like I did in my 1st novel. I'm not even mentioning my 3rd novel here (not true, I just did!) because I already have that too, with a title, main characters, beginning and end, all planned out in 1 day after an inspirational talk over coffee with Michael Gruber, an awesome local author of 25+ novels. What does this tell you? It tells you that writing your 1st novel is like a wall that has to be broken, for the flood to flow. At least it's how I feel. And the most important part is, I won't need to complete as many drafts as I did with my 1st, because instantly the search for the end of the book is over. Isn't it nice? I think it is. I'm totally grinning right now.
I stopped trying to impress. This has been a terrible thing in Draft 4 of SIREN SUICIDES, and I honestly don't know how my poor Beta Readers read through it and even said that they liked it. I tried so hard to describe certain things, tried so desperate to be poetic, that I confused the hell out of people in places, going on some insurmountable tangents 1 or 2 paragraphs long, when 1 sentence was all that was needed. No more. I calmed down. For ROSEHEAD, I simply write down what happens, and it flows, it doesn't hiccup, it doesn't feel forced. I'm almost too afraid of this easy feeling, I want my writing angst back! Well, I think it will be back once I start, but my state of my mind is much more peaceful than it was while writing my 1st novel.
I better stop here. It seems like there are at least 10 more awesome things that happened, like believing that I can actually write, and knowing how long it will take me, and scheduling my time so that I can write it fast while it's fresh, and what kinds of books I want to read, to fuel my own writing, and more. But then I will bore you to tears with total self-indulgence. I hope the above was helpful? In convincing you to finish that 1st novel no matter what? Is that a yes I hear? Okay. And if you have written a bunch of novels already, tell me, am I off the mark here? Is this how you felt too?