It's been a while since I've started a story from scratch. STILLWATER was a re-write of a NaNo novel from four years ago. PALO DURO was the completion of a novel I started in 2008. The sequel to STILLWATER I started last summer felt more like a continuation of the novel than a story from whole cloth. (Duh, Melissa: it was a sequel.) Since November 1, I've been trying and failing to settle on a story. Doubts are starting to creep in. Will I ever be able to finish another MS? Is that it for me and creativity? Are those two MS as good as it's going to get? No. Of course not. But, the doubts, they've been a creeping lately. This morning, I finally figured out why.
My first drafts are horrible.
Maybe everyone's first drafts are horrible, but mine sure seem to be almost unreadable. There's lots of standing, staring, looking and moving. Tons of dialogue and very little narrative. True characterization or voice doesn't tend to kick in until about halfway through. I jump around, write scenes as I think of them, then inevitably have to completely re-work the scene or delete it all together. My writing mentor, Mark, jokes that I write 2 1/2 novels worth of prose before I settle on the story. He's right and it sucks. But, I can't seem to write any other way.
I know I will edit out all of the garbage, tighten it up and make it better. I know I should allow myself to write badly. But, it's hard to do that. Well, it's easy to write badly, that's become painfully obvious these past two months. It's hard to not worry myself to death about it. It's hard to make myself write in the beginning of a story, when the story hasn't solidified, the voice is weak and indistinct, when the flow just isn't there. I have to force myself to write, to trust it will all come together, like it has before.
Until then, I cling to the encouragement of my friends and family, like this remark from my husband after reading John Grisham's new novel:
"It's not any better than yours. Wait. That didn't come out right."
"Do you mean, mine was a good as Grisham's?"
"Yes," he said, with a sigh of relief.
Good enough. I'll take it.