Sunday, January 23, 2011

I've Written a Book...Now What?

I finished my first novel two days ago, and I didn't think I would feel so sad about being done. I know this feeling - it's the way I feel at the end of anything that was really, really fun. When I'm in a show, I call it post-show depression.  But I wasn't expecting it this time.  I may have expected it a year ago when I first started, but recently I've just wanted to be done with this book.  Not that I haven't enjoyed the process, but I've been working on it for a year and a half, and that's a long time to be thinking about one thing.  It really was on my mind all the time.  Even when I was at school and wasn't devoting a lot of time to the writing, it was still the number one thing on my mind.  I'm used to having lots of different ideas in my head, so it felt pretty weird.

The hardest part of writing towards the end was maintaining an interest in the story.  About six months ago, I had an inspiration for my second book, but I wouldn't let myself start it until I had finished the first.  I often get my next idea before I'm finished what I'm currently working on, and if I always let myself run with every new idea, I would never finish anything.  So as much as I loved working on my first book, I thought I would feel relieved to be done because I could move on to other things.

The other thing that made it hard to keep going towards the end was knowing that I probably won't be able to get this book published.  At the beginning, I kind of assumed it would be brilliant.  When I finished the first draft, I figured it may still be worth sending to a publisher after editing.  But once I got about halfway through the second draft, I wasn't even sure I should send it to my friends to read.  At the beginning I was really psyched about writing a novel, but towards the end I didn't want to talk to people about it anymore because it felt like a disaster.  My mom even said that whenever the subject of my novel came up, I had the same expression that I used to have back in high school, when I didn't want to tell her how I did on a test.  And she had it right - that was exactly how I felt.  She suggested that I could put my novel aside and move on to my next project if I really thought there was no hope of fixing it; this was probably really good advice, but I didn't want to take it.  I had to finish my first novel so that it would be my first novel.  I have a few books that I started writing  in middle school and didn't get beyond the first 30 pages.  I have plays and screenplays that I outlined in high school but never even started typing.  Most of these outlines and drafts I had written for myself and didn't intend for anyone else to read.  This is the first time I've worked on a major personal project that I actually meant to share with the world.  I had worked too hard on it to add it to my heap of unfinished projects that no one else will ever see.

The other issue is that I fall in love with ideas.  I get infatuated and love everything about an idea and don't see the flaws until I've been with it for a long time.  The only reason that I would have been willing to stop before finishing would have been if I thought my second novel would be much better, and it would be a better use of my time to start that book.  And I did feel that way last summer, but I was (and am still) infatuated with my new idea, while I've been with my first novel long enough to know all the issues it has.  I won't be able to see clearly which idea is better until I finish the second book and set them both aside for a few months.  Since I couldn't trust my judgement to stop, I had to keep going.

My parents are going to read my book this week.  They've given me good feedback on my work in the past, and their reaction will determine whether or not I try to get it published.  I happened to finish during their busiest time of year, so now I'm just waiting to hear what they say.  I feel almost like I did before my first ever fiction writing workshop, except I'm a little less nervous this time because I've already prepared myself for the worst.  I've known for a while that my book might not be publishable, and I've accepted that already. And there is a bit of relief in acknowledging the worst case scenario and realizing that it's not the end of the world.    

I've never really liked the term "learning experience" because it usually means you've done something that you regret, and the only good that will come of it is that you know enough not to do it again.  But I don't regret writing my first novel at all.  No matter how it turns out, it was worth it.  I wish I could say that I've learned the process of writing a novel, but I still have a lot to figure out.  What I do believe is that writing a story is like building a castle out of Legos; if no one likes it enough to cement the blocks together, you can still show it to your friends, leave it up overnight, then the next morning, knock it down and use the pieces to build something new.

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