In finally finishing a draft, I achieved so much of what I’ve wanted for so long—just a finished draft, of anything. Sure, because of its length, I can’t really do anything with it (I suppose I could polish it for the short story market, but that’s not really my ultimate goal—and it really isn’t written to stand that far alone). But the fact that it is actually written and complete means so much to me. The day has finally come…
So why am I still so afraid?
Or, to put it another way, why does the idea of having written a crappy first draft (and to continue writing crappy first drafts of the rest of the stories) feel so… bad?
You see, all this is just writing. It’s just storytelling. It’s just making up sentences in the hope that someone reading those sentences will be entertained or enlightened or horrified or whatever your intended result.
The worst that can happen (I suppose short of the melodramatic outcome of someone being incited by your words to do horrible actions that you did not intend, but let’s put that aside for now) is that someone reads what you wrote… and judges you. They think you’re stupid, or not a good writer, or not funny, or not scary, or not whatever you wanted to appear. But they’ll go on with their lives, and you’ll go on with yours, and that’s that.
For the writer who hopes for a career, there’s the added layer of not getting paid. If every agent and publisher judges you not good enough, you will not make money writing. This is a scary prospect, certainly, especially if writing is your dream and you don’t want to do anything else. I do truly try to write for myself, and I enjoy much of the process even if no one else ever sees it. But couple my incredible laziness towards an actual job with just enough arrogance to want to show off, and I have to admit I write to share my work and get paid—which means the idea of writing for “nothing” is scary.
So I think, for me at least, this is probably at the core of my fears. Sure, I do really fear being judged by the masses upon reading my writing, but more being judged in the fact of not being published at all (or being published so meagerly that it buys my ramen for a month). And, in the same way that someone who dreams of being a teacher would despair at the difficult job market, it’s a natural fear that you won’t get the job you want, or you’ll lose it and not be able to find another, and so on.
But why does it keep us from even trying? How is not writing at all better than writing badly?
I think it’s the hypothetical idea that we could be good if all the factors align—the right idea, the right software, the right time, the right influences, the right characters… When we start writing (even just developing an idea), we are confronted by what we can really do, and the doubts set in that this is the best we will ever do—so we change ideas or stop writing until we can do better.
Because the feeling I have now, after finishing my draft, is still one of uneasiness. And I think it’s the fear that no amount of revision will make the writing any better; that it really is the best I can do, and right this moment, it does not feel good enough. What if no amount of revision will improve it? Or what if it changes it and makes it worse? What if my crappy first draft is just what my level of writing skill is, and that’s that?
And what if it’s not good enough to make my dream come true?
I believe that distance from my draft, given only by time, will help. And I trust that revision is a skillset that I can work on and improve and eventually apply to make it really good. I wish we could see first drafts of famous books just to see what and how much can change, but I also understand that one of the main unspoken protections of the first draft is that it will never be seen.
I actually don’t think my first draft is that bad; it just isn’t as good as I want it to be. I think the idea is sound, but the execution of the characters, the pacing, and the exposition (my God, the info dumping is strong with this one) leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t know that I have the writing skills to make it any better… I’ve never gotten this far in the process—my earlier finished pieces were never revised. But I will study, and learn, and do my best, and someday hopefully send my writing out and just see what happens.
For now, it’s on to the second episode… and I’m scared all over again.
Ah, the writing life.