When Done Means Starting Over – Part 1

“A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.” Roald Dahl

At the end of last week I completed a draft of my new novel. I’ve told few people this because I have to first get used to the idea myself. I never know what my reaction is going to be, but whatever it is I like to go through it on my own, understand it, and then share it with others when I can be (relatively speaking) coherent.

This time around, there were a few brief moments when I gushed with satisfaction, happy dance and all. It’s done. Thank goodness, it’s done. There it was in front of me: close to 100,000 words and 35 chapters. These pages along with the umpteenth versions were the only concrete evidence of over three years of effort.

The elation doesn’t last long though. It is quickly replaced with self-doubt and a sense of loss. Tears come fast and often. I feel gutted.

You’re likely wondering why. It’s difficult to comprehend even for me.

I have spent a great deal of time with my characters. They are as real to me as people I see in a coffee shop or the grocery store. In fact, I do see my characters in these places and have to stop myself from staring.

I’m invested in their lives and I don’t want to see them leave. So my tears, in part, come from knowing while our journey isn’t done it will end eventually.

Of course, just because I’ve finished a few drafts doesn’t mean the project is complete either. I will rewrite. Typically I like rewriting because it feels like I have the benefit of hindsight. Plus the screen is no longer blank. I know a lot about my characters and their stories. With rewriting I’m adding more depth, new layers, new information they are, only on rewrite, willing to reveal.

But rewriting for me also means starting anew. So when I stare down a 400-page document, the task at hand seems daunting. Do I want to go down that path again? Is this project worth that effort? Here is where all that self-doubt comes into play. Is this a story worth telling? Hasn’t it been told before? Who do I think I am trying to do this? And on and on it goes, the questions stream like the tears.

When I crawl out of that cycle, I then have to plan my way forward, figure out the next steps. How will new ideas come? When and where will they come from? Will I recognize them when they do?

While the tears will stop at some point, the questions never will.

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