I did something I swore to myself that I wouldn’t do. I had to. I had no other choice.
Per Stephen King’s (as well as most of my writing professors’) advice, I don’t read any of my writing until I finish a first draft. Whether I am working on a blog post, an essay, or a full–length novel, I try not to look back until I’m finished with the drafting phase. Afterwards, I go back and determine what works and what doesn’t, decide what needs revised or omitted, and then revise, revise, and revise again until I’m fairly happy with the finished product. With blog posts, I tend to write, revise, and publish posts within a week or two, but for longer works, like longer essays and stories, I strive to “let it rest” for six weeks before returning for the critique and revision process. I had fully intended to continue this process for my outdoor adventure novel, but life doesn’t always concern itself with my intentions.
Over the past month, I’ve been forced to take a writing hiatus. Moving and all of the chores, errands, and details associated with putting my family’s belongings into storage have occupied nearly all of my free time. In addition to my lack of writing opportunities, I also felt out of practice when I did find a few minutes to write. The words just didn’t seem to flow as they do when I am writing regularly. But as soon as we arrived at the cabin in the mountains, I started a program to get my fingers and my mind back into top writing shape. Since the first night here, I’ve journaled incessantly. I’ve filled pages and pages with my thoughts and observations. In addition to journaling, I’ve also been writing blog posts, revising a short memoir, and writing new essays. Finally, after hours of practice, I had time to write and the ability to do so again!
I started writing again on my novel a few days ago. But before I started, I had to ignore King’s advice about not reading a first draft until it’s finished. I started at the first page and read the entire draft up to the very last sentence. I had to. I couldn’t put myself that far into a character’s mind or that far into a setting and plot without refreshing my memory.
Even though I didn’t follow King’s advice exactly, I did resist the urge to fix or change anything. Even when I found a typo or a missing or extra word, I left the draft exactly as it was when I wrote it. I decided to leave all of those little issues (and maybe a few bigger ones as I revise) until I’m ready to actually study and revise the piece properly.
I did, however, discover a surprising positive side–effect of reading the first draft. I was actually quite happy with nearly every aspect of the novel and felt extremely inspired to keep writing! I enjoyed the protagonist’s character development. The story was compelling. In fact, I couldn’t wait to read what happened next. The nature element worked perfectly, providing me with a real sense of setting as well as supporting the actions and emotions within my writing. But more than anything else, I enjoyed the psychological aspect of the book. I loved seeing how a dire situation is influencing my character and how he responds to those situations and influences.
As of right now, I’m about half–finished (35,000+ words) with the first draft. I expect that when finished, the draft will probably be around 70,000 words. I’m going to keep pushing hard to finish the first draft over the next several weeks. Although I can write anywhere, I can’t think of anyplace better to write a novel set deep in the mountains of West Virginia than on the front porch of a cabin looking out into those mountains.
How about you? Are you writing a novel right now? Or is blogging, journaling, or shorter works occupying your time? Do you abstain from reading your first draft until finished or do you revise on the go? I’d love to hear about your writing process!