What I Learned After Three Drafts of the Same Novel

For the past five and a half years—lord, has it really been that long?—I’ve been working on a story called The Diary of a Suicide (TDoaS). At first, it was a side project I posted periodically on Wattpad, solely for the purpose of gauging my skill level. Somewhere along the lines, I fell in love with the characters, and I decided they deserved much better than the disjointed mess I’d been making for them. So, in September of 2014, I officially started outlining a rewrite of TDoaS, and in November, I officially started drafting it.

That was three years and three drafts ago now, and it’s weird looking back on where the story started. A lot’s changed, but also a lot hasn’t. Like I said, it’s weird. And I kind of want to talk about it…

Through the use of Wattpad (and through establishing myself as a writer in other areas of the interwebs), I’ve met a few other writers with all sorts of creative processes. It’s something that always fascinated me, mostly because I’ve been stuck in the same process for so long and, despite my best efforts, couldn’t manage to change it up if I tried. Some people (myself included) outline in detail, and some people feel trapped if they even consider it. Some people draft once and move right on to revising and refining that draft into what will eventually become their completed novel. I do the opposite; once I finish a draft, I will review it, decide what I liked and what I didn’t, then will outline a whole new draft and start again from scratch. It’s the age-old routine of trial and error: I try, I declare that try a failure, and I try again, keeping my previous mistakes in mind.

The first draft of the TDoaS rewrite followed the original plot I had in mind while writing the first however-many chapters on Wattpad. I noticed the plot was very bland and straight-forward, and that was what I tried to adjust with the second draft. For the third, I tried to iron out minor details in the plot, but the cause for redrafting versus revising was that I decided I wanted to completely switch up the format in which the story was told (this introduced a new—and important—character, which got me to reconsider the perspective the story was told in). For the draft I’ve only recently started, the grand #4, my main desire to redraft—yet again—came from a need to rework my characters and their relationships. Carter didn’t care enough, Stella didn’t feel enough, and all the secondary characters simply didn’t… exist enough. So here I am, writing the same book again with new scenes meant to expand upon the emotional range of fictional people, and minus a few that did them no favors. At this point, we can probably consider this obsessive behavior, but I rest easy knowing I’m one of many—and that I’m far from the worst when it comes to redrafting.

When I first started each of those drafts, there was a certain feeling: this is the one. It wasn’t because I genuinely believed each draft would be without flaw, or trusted myself not to nitpick over its worth, but because I was so much happier with the changes I had made than I was about the previous attempt. And with each draft, when I’d get about halfway through, I’d already start compiling a list of everything I wanted to change in the next draft, to the point of damn-near rushing the ending out so I could get on with fixing it. There was never a question of whether or not I’d keep going, it was a guarantee. And it wasn’t until I was outlining Draft #4 (whose document is affectionately titled “The Bestest One”) that I realized what a harmful cycle this is. On one hand, I appreciate it because the state that TDoaS is currently in is so much better than where it started. Like, holy crap guys, I kind of love it. And when I first started writing it for Wattpad, I never would’ve imagined I’d ever say that, yet here we are. And that’s kind of the thing. It’s not a cycle of self-hatred, because I love it—I really, truly do—but it’s still never good enough. It can always be better than it is, and with each draft I’m actively trying to find ways to prove that. It’s never good enough.

But that’s not it at all, I’m realizing. With just those 12-to-15 chapters I had on Wattpad (one of these days I’ll care enough to go and check how many chapters there actually were), people were loving it. I can recall two individual comments I received over the hiatus where people had referred to it as their favorite book. And every draft since then has been better, so how could it possibly not be good enough? If those original chapters were, anything could be. (No offense, Wattpad Draft. You still the OG.) Looking over the outline for this new draft, it has all the makings of a good book—maybe even a great one, but everything’s subjective. I’ve refined the plot, I’m refining the characters, and I’ve finally gotten into the groove of writing both Stella and Carter’s voices. It is, at the very least, good enough. But then comes the hardest realization.

Maybe it’s good enough to let go.

My dad tends to liken creative projects to children, and I’m starting to feel it. His greatest fear these days has been his now-grown children flying away and emptying his nest, and as annoying as his pestering may be (sorry pops), I think—and I say this at the risk of being called John Hammond—I get it. Not in the literal sense, of course, but this story is my creation, and years of my life has been almost solely dedicated to keeping it going and shaping it into a better story, one I can be proud of. And I’ve reached a point where doing anything more for it is unnecessary, because it can finally stand on its own two feet and face the world. My child is ready to graduate, and soon it will be ready to leave, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. But if I never let go, no one else will ever get to know what it has to offer. So I’ve made up my mind.

“The Bestest One.”

I titled the document that on a whim, because it’s just more fun to see a title like that among other, more serious file names. But I think I’m going to let it ring true. Draft #4 will be the final draft of TDoaS, because I’m satisfied with what I have in store for it, and I think that’s enough. I’ve long-since accepted the fact that The Diary of a Suicide will not be my magnum opus. There is too much working against it—I’m still young with a mind full of other ideas, and it’s my very first full-length novel; I’ve got plenty of improving to do. And I think that’s okay. I think I have to start approaching my writing in the same way I approach my art: I give my current best to every piece I make, but I don’t keep polishing it hoping for perfection. I let it stand as an example of my current ability and accept that I will one day improve. I don’t look back on my old art with embarrassment, but rather with pride for how far I’ve come. I can only hope that when TDoaS is done, years down the road I’ll have enough sense not to pick it apart but to appreciate it for what it is, and for the experience it gave me.

Of course, none of this is to say that the book is almost done. As I’ve stated, I only recently started this draft, and I don’t doubt there will be plenty of revising and editing to be done. Don’t let this post get your hopes up too much, because I’m a slow worker, believe me. But it’s a journey I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I’ve been trying to get myself into the habit of using this blog as a place to open up about my general creative process. This just felt worth it.

But with that, my rambling comes to an end. Mostly because my eyes are hurting from staring at this screen, and I genuinely can’t remember anything else I wanted to say. To anyone else going through this process for the first time with me: hey there pal, I’m sure it gets easier. And to any experienced writers out there who’ve been through this countless times by now: …it gets easier, right?

Whelp, guess I’ll see. ‘Til next time!

draft

Like this? You can share it here:

Leave a Reply