Months after “finishing” my first work of fiction, I finally came back to it and tried to fill in the obvious holes in the story. It still needs a lot of work, but today I sent it off to the first reader.
It’s a big favor to ask of someone — please read 52,000 words I have written that I know are not great in some areas and also don’t be too mean when you point out all the mistakes I’ve made. It’s possible that first reader will come back and tell me that it is technically a book, but not one that any other person would want to read. There’s nothing to be done, it just isn’t very good or engaging.
It would be crushing to hear that kind of feedback, but also kind of freeing. For a first attempt I’ve learned a lot about the process and where my strengths and weaknesses lie, so even if I ended up scrapping the entire book it wouldn’t be a total loss. After all, sometimes it’s better to cut and run rather than make yourself crazy trying to poke and prod a massive project into something readable.
I say “massive,” but my book is really a typical length, even a tad on the short side in terms of historical fiction, but to a blogger who writes posts around a thousand words and articles for other publications of a similar length, managing a 52,000 word project has been extremely difficult. I wrote another book just before my daughter was born, but each chapter was a stand alone essay, so I still didn’t have to worry about character development or plot points across two hundred pages. There are days when I’m not sure there’s enough space in my brain for this entire book and also everything else I need to think about on a daily basis.
Sending my book out into the world is stressful. It’s like sending my kids off to school. When it exists only on my computer I’m free to think whatever I want about it as a whole. But now that it exists in someone else’s email inbox, there will be feedback and criticism and that part is never fun, even when you know it’s crucial. You don’t want to hear that a thing you’ve poured yourself into is bad any more than you want to find out your kid is a biter a daycare. Letting these babies into the world is scary when you can imagine they are perfect in the comfort of your own home. The next thing you know you’re being told writing is just not your calling or that your kid picks his nose and eats what he finds the entire school day.
The thing is, I know there are parts that aren’t right. That line is weak, this character is flat, this section is repetitive, and so on. But there are parts I’m really attached to, and my concern (for my ego) is that my first reader will come back and say those parts are the worst parts and should be scrapped entirely. Then what? This theme I’ve worked on, or this scene that made me cry could be on the chopping block and I will become totally unsure of what is good and what is bad after being told my best is disposable. Writing is hard, but editing is brutal.
So say a prayer for me, but say several prayers for whomever reads the first few drafts of my very first try at writing fiction, because yikes. It’s a good learning experience, even if it’s a painful one.