You know what I did this week? I'll tell you. (Just for the record, it wasn't being sent to my room for the next three years without supper or recreational activities.)
This week, I reread my first draft.
I'd been avoiding since the end of November. To be perfectly honest, I had been operating under the assumption that I would outline the entire book and rewrite the whole thing, effectively scrapping everything I had written before. But when I made the decision to sit down and read my really (REALLY!) crappy first draft, it was because my way wasn't working.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about what needed to change in this book, and the changes piled up really fast. First it was small things -- add in a minor character here, clarify where the government gets its money from here -- but the big stuff wasn't far behind. I decided that what had previously been the ending of the book had to be the ending of part one, instead. I changed the gender of a major character, changed the first love interest, changed an entire society, killed off a god. It got to be so bad, pretty much everything had been changed, usually more than once. It became a story I didn't even recognize. (And to be perfectly honest, many of those changes were led by my idea of what would be marketable, which is ALWAYS a horrible idea during your first rewrite.)
So I did the thing I thought I'd never do. I went back and read my NaNo2010 novel.
And it wasn't bad. Clearly, it's not in publishable shape, not by a long shot. But the writing is entertaining in places, characters do their funny little character things, and most importantly, I caught the slightest glimpse of the heart of the story. I promptly threw out about 95% of the changes I had made in the six weeks I'd been away from my novel.
Going back to the very first draft was something I thought I'd never do, and it turned out to be something that was so, so necessary. Getting grounded -- I got grounded again in my book, firmly entrenching myself in the potential and the heart that's there. Doing this reminded me that in fact, I don't hate my book. I actually kind of like it. And those things I like about it -- those are the most important things to remember, and to keep around.
The lovely and supremely talented Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss, (which I loved and highly recommend, by the way), wrote a similar post on Between Fact and Fiction, where she argued for the creation of a "love list," a list of all the things you love about your novel, small and big, in order to remind yourself when the going gets hard that yes, you do like your book. You may even love it at times.
So that's what I was doing this week. I was rekindling my love for my book, grounding myself in the style and the mood. It takes a big weight of my shoulders to remember that I actually like my story, that it isn't actually hopeless, that I don't actually have to turn the characters on their heads and shake everything out of them to make the pieces fit. Here's hoping I can make this time last.