It seemed almost impossible, the idea of letting go.
I’d spent so many months working so hard to tell the version of that story that first came to me. At the time, everything felt right. Necessary. Not perfect, but not too many steps below that all the same.
The moment I realized my story was going to have to change — not in a monumental way, but enough that I couldn’t just fix the spelling errors and call it done — my heart broke.
I loved these characters just the way they were. I liked most of the scenes. I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to some of the things I loved most about the version of the story I’d started with.
Which was exactly why I knew I had to.
First drafts are messy. Any writer who tells you otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
The original version of your story will be flawed. And even though it won’t be the final version, it will always mean something special to you deep down.
You will never forget your first draft — and not just the mistakes you made or the things you’re glad you got rid of or changed. But the good things, too. The things you didn’t want to part with, but knew you had no other choice. The characters that no longer belonged but you hated to say goodbye to. The emotional beats that just didn’t fit your narrative anymore, no matter how deeply they touched your soul.
You’ll remember those things because to love something is to know you can’t always keep it close. While there are certainly bound to be things about your first draft that you didn’t care for, it will always hold a special place in your heart because of the integral place it holds in the long journey you will take from the initial spark of your story idea to saving and closing out that final, final, FINAL draft.
We learn something from everything we write, whether it ends up in the final version or not. That’s something many writers find it extremely difficult to understand in the early days of their hobbies or careers. One of the most important lessons you’ll learn again and again throughout your time as a writer is that sometimes the hardest storytelling decisions, the most heartbreaking ones, are also the best ones.
These are the “Oh … this character actually has to die, doesn’t she” decisions. The “these characters can’t have a happy ending” decisions. You don’t make them because you want to break people’s hearts (or your own). You make them because that’s how the story has to go. The best way to tell it isn’t always the easiest or the one everyone wants.
It’s not even always the one YOU want, as a lover of the story. But as the one TELLING the story, you know why it has to be this way. And you’ll come to accept it sooner than you might think.
But you’ll never forget how the story almost was. That first draft is like a milestone, a memory that marks your progress from “telling the easy story” to “telling the story the world actually needs.”
To understand the difference, you need to have had the experience of changing a story, of rewriting it in ways that make it different from the original, not just different words or different arrangements of scenes. Characters change, events change. Things appear that weren’t there before. Things go away.
This is part of the process. Things change. You do, too.
But you will never, ever, forget where it all started.
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.