The First Draft Hangover

By Mayra Cuevas

For months I’ve dreamed of how I would I feel the day I finished the first draft of my first novel, a YA fantasy. I indulged myself in the thrill, the excitement and the relief of it all… all of which lasted one day and was quickly replaced by the first draft hangover.My first draft took me 54 days of almost daily writing, preceded by six months of research and outlining. The final product was 51,000 words, a big stack of papers sitting on my desk and a story. I was very proud. My Facebook post was brimming with gratitude and optimism. I was reveling in my own private bacchanalia of writer’s ecstasy. Here was the post:

"I just finished the first draft of my first novel... like right now. Today is a great day!!! It is the culmination of a 20 year dream that started when I first read Isabel Allende's Casa de los Espiritus and decided that I wanted to be like her. I'm no Allende, but its feels amazing to have a big pile of pages with 51,000 words on them, and a story with my name on the top... My heart is crazy happy with gratitude right now to everyone who has been so supportive of my dream for the last few months and years. I have been inspired by your kindness. Thank you.

So, let revisions and rewrites begin!"

A torrent of messages followed. Everything from “wow” to ”we are so proud of you.” I gave myself permission to just enjoy it, even if only for a day. After all I had just put into words a story that has been with me for almost three years. Some people never even make it to the first draft, I told myself over and over. I had accomplished so much. I should be proud.And then came the next day… the day I started reading the manuscript. You see until now I was only writing. I had forced myself not to go back for three main reasons: 1) to avoid discouragement, which was very wise; 2) to focus only on plotting the story that I had outlined; 3) and to avoid getting hung up on something I had written and didn’t sound right, the quick sand of first drafts.I held the manuscript in my hands. It was thick and heavy and made my heart flutter. I stared lovingly at the first page. I liked the title, my name was written correctly. That was a good start. Page 2, I had some ideas on how to improve, made some red marks here and there. Page 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 they SUCKED! So much. They were awful. With a capital A. And the more I read the more I realized draft two would be exactly as much work, if not more, than draft one. And as this realization hit me over the head, over and over again, the hangover brought me down from the high, quicker than a bird that has just been shot down.

At this point I panicked, realized what a terrible writer I was, and how my dreams of being a novelist were not only far from becoming a reality, they were impossible, because I was the worst writer in the history of humanity. That is when I called a writer friend who has a finished manuscript, rewritten several times; because my misery needed company and a shoulder to cry on. She laughed with me (or at me) and told me she went through the same thing. Immediately my spirits were lifted and I decided she was a little blessing and I should stop the whining.

When I embarked on this journey, and dragged my boyfriend, family and friends with me I did it fully aware that it would be a hard road ahead. The kind of hard road that breaks your preconceived notions of yourself as an artist and a creator,  opens your heart and leaves you feeling exposed, vulnerable and humbled.

On Monday my revisions began, and with them the second part of my journey. The part where I have to deliver on the promise to myself that no matter what happens I will see this book through, because I believe in my story and I believe in myself.

Was your first draft a nightmare? Tell us how you did by sharing your story in the comments section below. 

The First NovelMayra