On the occasion of finishing a draft

One of the tags on this blog is "the words on the page are the only ones people can read." I don't have it as an affirmation for others. I have it as a reminder to myself.

I have a problematic relationship with perfection.

When asked, I say that I began writing five years ago, when I applied to Clarion. This is exactly true - my application portfolio was made up of the second and fourth short stories I ever wrote. (I wrote four, and picked the two best.) But I had tried a couple of times - once in college, and once just after law school - to write a novel. 

I don't have the pages anymore, or if I do, I haven't refound them, so I don't know how far I got. But both times, I stopped writing when I stopped feeling like I knew what happened next. You see, I thought that's how writers worked - they got a story in their head, and then they told it, beginning to end. If I couldn't do that, obviously, I wasn't a writer.

I know. I know. And maybe there are some writers who do work that way. And I am happy for them. But I was so convinced I had to be perfect the first time out, I let that get in my way. I let it paralyze me, and keep me from trying.

The hardest thing for me, once I did start really writing, was letting go of the need to get things perfect in order to keep writing. I mean, I know all the things I need to say to myself, that finished is better than perfect, that sometimes you need to write the bad stuff to get to the good, that that's what revisions are for. That no one will ever see the shitty first (and second and seventh) draft unless I let them.

I know these things, but it's hard. When I feel the story going wrong, when I doubt my words, I shake and I sweat and I get sick to my stomach, sure that whatever talent or luck I had before has left me. I go and run until my head clears, or until I'm exhausted. 

The first time I finished a book-length draft, I printed the manuscript out, and set it up on the table, ready to read through and revise. I heard a funny noise, and I turned around to see that one of my cats had climbed onto the table, and was peeing all over the manuscript. I have no idea why. For a moment I lived in a metaphor. 

(One of my friends said exactly the right thing: "Well, Kat, there's your worst ever review sorted, then.")

I finished a book-length draft yesterday. As yet, no one has peed on it.

Five years ago, when I started writing, I couldn't have written this draft. Not for the "I'm a better writer now, and I needed to be better to write this story" reason, though I do feel both of those are true. But because the draft is full of holes - scenes that are noted only in brackets of [x needs to happen here], or scenes that are just dialogue. I already have notes to myself of things that I need to fix, and once I finish typing everything out of my notebook, and going through all the notes I wrote to myself while writing, there will be more. It's such a hot mess of a draft it's not even going to my agent or my beta readers before it goes into revisions. But I'm proud of myself for scrawling "ENDS" after the last sentence, and, more importantly, I trust myself to be able to fix the things that need fixing when I do revise.

Not more or less proud than I was the first time I did this. Just happy to recognize that sometimes things change, and that I was able to let them.