A few weeks ago, I finished the first draft of my first novel. It was the dream, my story was told. The sand was in the sandbox, and now I had to build castles with it. It didn’t feel the way that I’d expected it to. As proud as I was, I just felt lost.
This book and these characters had been a part of me for a year, countless hours of work, and tens of thousands of words. Then, suddenly, they were gone. I still had to edit them, they still need to be published, but the deep connection I’d had to them just disappeared. I didn’t know what to do. As writers, we create characters, give them stories to tell, and put them on paper so that they live forever. For my characters to live forever, I had to take those next steps. Right then, though, those steps just felt too difficult to take. I built each of these characters from the ground up, and I’d painstakingly threaded every piece of their narrative together. As rough as that draft is, it is such a big piece of my heart. The night I finished my draft, I told a friend that I felt like I’d just buried a part of myself. I know that sounds melodramatic, but honestly, if you don’t have that kind of devotion to your characters, I don’t understand how you could spend days, weeks, and months writing them.
If are blessed and cursed with that kind of devotion, you’ve probably felt this way before, or you’re somewhere on your way. There are a lot of resources out there that describe life after the first draft; taking a break to let the manuscript breathe, the initial edit, agonizing over every word, beta readers, so on and so forth. What I’ve never read about is how you’re supposed to feel.
Like in most things in life, I don’t think there’s a wrong way to feel. There are, however, some ways to cope.
The first, don’t underestimate the break.
I cheated a little, my break was only a week. During that week, I went to a writing conference, had incredible author Jessica Burkhart critique my first ten pages, and brainstormed ideas for my next book. I had my first draft printed and bound, and I carried it with me everywhere, but I didn’t open it.
When I did, I made a big deal about it. I played music, I hugged the book like it was a teddy bear, I took a deep breath before I opened it, the whole nine yards.
Let me tell you, the first time I read my own book was the closest thing to magic I’ve ever experienced. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just a draft, and it needs a lifetime’s worth of work. The important part, though, is that it’s real. It’s tangible. I was holding a year’s worth of work in my hands, and at some point, in the middle of that first read, I realized that I hadn’t lost those characters I love so much. All I did was make them real.
That brings me to my second tip, realize that this is only the beginning. I spent a year writing this draft, and I’ll spend months at least working on the next one. Then they’ll be another, then I’ll send it to readers, then to agents, then to publishers. These characters are going to be with me for a long time. Their first chapter is just over, now it’s time to make them the best they can be.
My third and final realization may seem obvious; the connection that I thought had disappeared was never really gone. As I read through my draft, and every time I’ve read through it since, I’ve been flooded with memories. Where I was when I thought of the ending, the way I felt when someone else read it for the first time, all of it. It’s all still there, and all of those beautiful characters are just as much mine as they were when they were just thoughts in my head.
So, if you’re like me and you’re feeling adrift because you finished a draft, I hope this can help. Your characters will always be yours, and thanks to you, they’ll be alive forever.
Check out my About and Works pages to for an introduction to me and what I’m working on, and catch me on Twitter @MarissaEller.