I started a new novel last week. I had been thinking about the story for at least two months. The characters kept popping into my mind at all hours of the day. I could see them so clearly. I felt so connected to them. I thought about them while I was driving, while I was in the shower, effortlessly seeing them in vivid scenes, some of which even brought tears to my eyes.
Then I sat down and wrote the first chapter.
It was awful.
Or at least, I felt like it was awful. I didn’t reread it too many times because I know doing that can easily suck me into self-criticism and self-doubt, not to mention actual editing, which I need to stay away from at this stage. But still. Even giving it a once-over did a number on my writerly self-esteem.
The characters were flat, the dialogue was stunted. In my mind, the story felt dark and dramatic, full of pathos and tragedy. On paper, it came across as dull and lifeless. Like I was trying to force a romantic comedy into mixing with something from Stephen King. It was weird, and not in a good way.
Fortunately, I’ve been writing seriously now for close to 15 years, so I know that this is actually normal.
When I first started writing, this was the part of the process that tripped me up the most. I would have these amazing ideas and spend weeks fleshing them out inside my own mind. During that stage, my story felt like a big epic movie that I was a part of, starring all my favorite actors and full of gorgeous imagery and stunning scenes. But then, when I would start the actual writing of the book, I couldn’t be more disappointed. The words I put down on the page didn’t even begin to measure up to what I had envisioned.
What I’ve learned in the 15 years since though, is that every writer goes through this. That’s why it’s called a “shitty first draft.” And something else I’ve learned that’s more valuable than gold—writing that shitty first draft will be A LOT more fun if you just concentrate on moving…