On Saturday, something strange happened. After a day spent running with and visiting friends, starting the day in Golden Gate Park and ending it in San Rafael, I opened my laptop on the couch next to J. The TV was on, I had a glass of wine, not the most conducive to concentrating on the words in front of me, but it was cozy. I started scrolling through my novel, finding where I had left off and remembering I had wrapped up where I’d been. I searched for gaps and for notes to myself, filling in a few words here and there but generally just skimming. A disbelieving feeling started poking in my brain. Could it be… am I staring at Draft 1 in its entirety?
I kept searching, kept scrolling, this feeling growing stronger and inviting in excitement. I eventually turned to J.
“Um. Can I show you something?” I pulled up the word count and the “time to read” estimates:
“I think I did a thing.”
I was. I was staring through the first draft of the first novel I’ve written.
(By the way, at this point, it’s really hard for me not to qualify this. A first draft doesn’t mean I’m printing this thing off and ta-da, it’s a book. There is a lot of editing ahead of me, which will probably be more work than the original 70,000 words.)
I’ve wanted to write a book for almost as long as I can remember. Although my transcripts will tell you I spent most of my time in science class, I was always writing little stories—beginnings of stories, mostly—in my journal or in little notebooks. In addition to the science fairs, I also wrote a short story called “Cinderella, Part 2” for a fifth grade creative fair, which is still floating around somewhere, the cover made in Print Shop and the pages printed in Chicago 12pt font.
And reading: I sopped up books in steady streams, losing myself in the words and worlds created by someone’s imagination. It was akin to magic. I at once wanted to be like them and also was intimidated and overwhelmed at joining their ranks.
At some point last summer, I was free-writing and hand wrote a few pages that I automatically knew belonged in a larger story. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. Over time, I’d heard and read enough author interviews to know they usually say something along the lines of, “I didn’t write this story, the story just came out of my hands.” I always thought this was utter bullshit.
I’m here to say, I was wrong. I’m a little embarrassed about it, but that’s how this was for me. I’d arrive to my laptop all ready to go in one direction and the characters would do or say something that changed the course completely. I had no idea how it was going to end until it ended. There was no heavy outlining before I started, only some sticky notes on the wall half-way through when I was really stuck about how to move forward.
And while there were early mornings and choosing writing over other things, there were never tortured moments of pulling out my hair or questioning my life choices. The tortured artist thing, for me, didn’t happen (again—I’m saying this before editing so there’s still time. Lots of time). I wanted to know what these characters would do, how they would learn the lessons they needed to and I hoped would learn, how they would interact, how they would move through their world.
But it was fun. Maybe in the same way marathon training is fun, even when you’re running a gazillion miles a week and tired and hungry all the time and you dream about a day when you can sleep in and maybe go on a bike ride or do anything but wake up early to run 20 miles. But, you do it, your legs carry you if you let them, and it’s hard but you find yourself somewhere in the process.
Through this process, I’ve been in the best brain space for the longest stretch of time I can remember in a while. I’ve been practicing a lot of ways to keep myself grounded and present, so this project isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the past year. But I know it’s helping me. Maybe it’s not the project, per se, but the time I carve out to devote to my creative self, so as long as I find an outlet in some way, my mind can stay uncluttered and free. Whatever it is, it’s clear that devoting this time isn’t just about creating a product but it is essential for my mental health, in the same way that running isn’t just about getting faster but about the effect it has on my mental and physical health.
So, as I set the first draft aside for a few weeks to let it ferment a bit (that’s a good thing) before I start hacking at it, I know I still want to return to my words in other ways. With the distraction of the holidays, it’s nice to have completed my goal a month early, and I can focus on other things, while maintaining a morning routine of free-writing.
Oh, and also, allow myself to have moments of disbelief and hopefully even pride: I wrote a novel. I. Wrote. A novel.