28 January 2009

The thrilling first read-through

It’s such a bizarre, surreal, scary, and wonderful experience reading the first draft of one of your own novels for the first time.

Today, a bit less than two months since I wrote THE END on my first draft of Orphans of Fenris, I sat down to read the book. The whole book, all 75,000 words, in one day. I always try to make a time for the first read that will allow me to get through the whole piece in a single day. Normally, I don’t read other books in this fashion—I just don’t usually have the blocks of time sitting around—but with a draft of my own novel, I want to absorb it all in one massive dose. This way, I get the emotional feel of the story, the overall effect, without letting the more nit-picky and critical aspect of my brain start trying to re-write it already. I’ll have plenty of time later to let my editorial brain start to dissect, hack, slash, and re-do. Right now I just want the feeling of the story. What did I end up writing? Is it something like what I set out to write? If it isn’t, do I like the different directions it went? Do particular aspects strike me, certain passages leap out? Does it read fast, do I find myself pulled along?

I felt very unhappy after reading the first draft of the previous novel I had written. This time, I had much different emotions.

I’m pleased to say that I think the first draft of Orphans of Fenris is the best first draft of any novel I’ve written so far. (This, by the way, is the fifth novel I’ve written through to complete first draft.) It has many problems, of course. I have much labor ahead of me. But… it’s the story I had hoped to see, it moves at the right pace, the characters mostly work, and I don’t think that the revision will involve having to gut huge pieces of it.

I think this draft went so well for a couple of reasons. The most important is that I was “warmed up” when I started. Sometimes I’ve written novels after a period of writing inactivity or laziness. But in the time leading up to writing Orphans of Fenris Take #1, I had done some extensive short story writing and spent time every day doing “automatic” writing, where I would simply let myself go on paper, experimenting with words and ideas, and doing the best to shut down my internal censor that always tries to double-think me and slow me down. When it came time to write the actual book, my writing muscles were in good shape.

The second reason is National Novel Writing Month. The encouragement from this event helped me get that internal censor under control, and gave me more freedom in writing the draft. I ran into fewer hang-ups using the “power through” method of NaNoWriMo. I’ve written all of my previous novels in the constant rush style, but with NaNoWriMo I had specific goals that let me push through but also pace myself so I never got overwhelmed. I could even take off a day here and there for a “battery recharge” and not feel I was slouching or find my momentum cut down.

Now I’m looking toward the editing process, which is slow but has many of its own joys. I hope to get the second draft finished by the end of March, and I’m planning to make it a very clean and polished second draft, one that I might feel comfortable showing to people for critiques.