It has been just a little over five months since I last looked at the novel draft I finished writing in September 2019.
That’s 130,000+ words’ worth of story that’s just sitting there. Untouched. Unloved. Unedited.
Why have I all but (temporarily) abandoned a story I love?
Because I am terrified.
As with most of the stories a writer composes, I’ve found that this book is, for lack of a better phrase, my everything. It is the closest thing I may ever have to a child. I gave everything I had to give to this narrative and more. I cried over it. I lost sleep over it. I felt like I was losing touch with reality as I was writing it, in that way you sometimes do when a story decides to take over your life for a short whirlwind of a time.
It became my life, the only thing I could bear to think about … until, in a single moment, it became the one thing I couldn’t allow myself to think about anymore.
I celebrated … sort of. I wrote those final words, I closed out the document, I was happy. I told myself I was going to take a break, maybe a month or two of freedom just to let the story breathe, to be able to return to it with a fresh outlook on what I wanted to shape it into during revisions.
But I couldn’t bring myself to open it again. Not because I didn’t want to, though. True, I was very busy writing other things, and dealing with some family issues — I don’t blame or “hate” myself for waiting so long to go back to the project I promised myself I wouldn’t give up on.
I couldn’t open it because I knew once I did, it would capture my full attention all over again.
But that’s not what terrifies me.
No. What scares me is that I will finish this story, that I will somehow figure out how to make it presentable enough for eyes other than mine, for hearts and minds that aren’t my own, and I’ll have to show it to people and they’ll have to tell me whether or not it has a future outside the dark and dusty corners of my iMac’s hard drive.
I’m not afraid of sharing my work with the masses. I do it all the time — it’s one of those things you just get used to the more you do it. Over the years I’ve learned that I’m just going to keep publishing content in various places, and if people don’t like it, that’s out of my control — at least for that particular piece of work they’re reacting to.
But what does scare me is the thought of this story growing beyond me. It’s what we all say we want — we want readers to take ownership of our work in that way they often do when they fall in love with it. And it’s not that we don’t want that. It’s just that we usually have no idea how we’re going to feel when it happens.
Part of me is afraid that I will never be able to express my gratitude enough, that I won’t be able to communicate how much this story and the people it touches means to me. This is such a personal story for me in so many ways, and I keep telling myself I’m ready to share it. But what I’m not ready for is the part of this process where I have to decide which parts to keep, which to dismantle, and which to add.
Revisions aren’t so terrible. But our brains always trick us into believing every task is a thousand times harder, somehow, than it really is.
Throughout all this, I keep telling myself that I wrote this story because it came to me. It chose me. It appeared out of nowhere one day, as I was deep into working on a completely different book. And I couldn’t shoo it away. I couldn’t say no. I took a chance and wrote the entire thing in five months.
And now, five months later, I think it’s almost time to dive into it again.
I don’t know if it will ever make it past this stage. But I hope so. If nothing else, maybe I’ll fall in love with this narrative all over again, even if I end up keeping it all to myself.
If this is a story you love, you will finish it.
It might take five more months. It might take 20 years.
But if this is the story your heart says it’s up to you to tell, you’re going to find a way to tell it.
Pay attention to the stories that call your name.
They’re the ones worth almost giving everything else up for.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.
2 thoughts on “When a First Draft Collects Dust On Your Hard Drive”
So well said! Fear drives too much for most of us.
I put so much of my heart and soul into my first long fictional project. But the world would never have chance to glimpse it if I did not go ahead and allow it to become a book. Even if just a handful of readers take a gander at it, I feel proud that it expresses so much of what I have seen on my own life journey. Even though I have weaved parts of me amidst fictional characters, it feels like a permanent record that encapsulates so much of the inner me.