When I finish a draft of something, I feel like a mad genius. Mad, because I suddenly become aware of the sheer amount of time it took to finish that thing. Also a genius, because I finished the thing, and no matter how many times I’ve read through the earlier sections pointing out plot holes to myself, finishing a draft of something is still finishing. It feels a lot like finishing.
I think this is a timely topic for two reasons. The first: yes, in fact, I did just finish a draft of something. I drafted the first book in a series about a year and a half ago, and over the summer, I decided to start re-drafting. After several weeks of telling my suitemates I would “probably finish this week,” finally, the draft is complete. I’ve written those fateful words, End Book 1.
Which brings me to the second reason this is timely: in three days, November will close, and with it will come the flurry of people who have won (or not) NaNoWriMo. Maybe you’re one of them! Good for you! Many people around the globe are about to experience that maddening, dizzy rush of having finished a long-term project – and feeling subsequently like a mad genius. The first thing that may be tempting for mad geniuses is to proclaim their success with an all-caps tweet or a dramatic Facebook post or an artsy Instagram/Snapchat photo with a delighted caption over the The End part. Or, if you’re like me, the word count (ugh). This is a fine goal! Go for it!
What you may be tempted to do next is to share your piping hot, straight-off-the-presses draft with every single person who liked your post or commented on your tweet. To this impulse, I would recommend letting the draft cool.
The first draft of something in particular (and, in my opinion, at least the second), represents an outpouring of work that is extremely valuable, but didn’t have the full scope of the project yet. You never really know what the last sentence of the book is going to be until you write the last sentence. You didn’t know if that foreshadowing you dropped in Chapter 2 that you intended to come up in Chapter 15 actually would come up in Chapter 15 – at least not while you were writing Chapter 2. Some breathing room and another read-through may point these things out to you right away.
So, dear mad geniuses, my recommendation is to pause. Take a deep breath before rapid-fire sending your long-term project to everyone you know. Put it in a drawer for at little bit. Start a new project. A few weeks, a month maybe down the line, pull that draft back out and read it front-to-back, either making comments on it or reading it without touching it. Then decide whether it’s something you want feedback on right now, or if there are major sweeping reforms to make, to the point where you’d be receiving feedback on ideas, characters, plot points, and scenes that you’ve already changed. Getting feedback on things you already intend to scrap might help in the abstract, and your readers might be able to point out things you can include in your second draft. They might also convince you to save something doomed for the chopping block, or cut something you thought was safe. If you’re proud of your first draft, for sure, get feedback on it! But, the most valuable feedback is that comment you weren’t expecting, that you as the author - the person who is supposed to know the book best - couldn’t find on your own. So take some time to get your distance, tame your genius, and look back over your work to decide: is my next step something I can do alone, or should I get help?
Written by Erika S.
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.