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I Finished my First Draft and Broke Down

I Finished my First Draft and Broke Down

first draft mindset Dec 12, 2023

Hello my lovely friends, I’m about to say those words many of us dream to say: I finished my first draft. It happened last month and it was… Well, ‘emotional’ is a light way of putting it.

What I want you to imagine instead are fever sweats, a dry throat, red-rimmed eyes, my best friend on speed dial, and my doubt having me in a chokehold. When I wrote those last few pages, I couldn’t properly function for the next two days from the grief.

 

Is there a reason I’m being so dramatic? 

Yes, actually. I’m gonna get a little personal in this blog.

 

This isn’t the first novel I’ve written, but it is the first one I’ve brought to a standard in which I’m actually happy for people to read it. It is also the first novel that I seem to have put a lot more of my personal experiences into than I intended to.

For a smidge of context—it’s a historical gothic family drama which deals with issues like unhealthy emotional attachments, overprotective parenting, holding grudges and regretting those, and the expression of emotion—particularly female emotion.

Don’t worry, I unpacked it all in therapy last month.

ALSO: I Finished My First Draft, Now What?

It is incredibly striking that I didn’t recognise so many of the messages and themes I put into it were all stories and experiences from my own life. I simply managed to bury them so deeply into the plot and the characters that even I didn’t see them

It really took me analysing the entire thing with my therapist, and for him to point out the parallels. I felt like I learned even more of what the true meaning of this story was. No seriously, I actually paused at one point to tell him I needed to write this sh*t down.

I assume that’s why I had that involuntary reaction of the shakes when I wrote the final chapter.

The ending surprised me. Tore my chest open, really.

Yes, I’m the one who wrote it, and yes, I think on some level I knew it was going to end that way, but I may have gaslighted (gaslit?) myself into thinking it was going to end happily in order for me to actually finish this novel.

Because when I got to that final scene, I was faced with a choice. Happy or sad?

I asked my best friend for input, and phrased it as a joke:

“Hey, wouldn’t it be totally crazy if I did this thing at the end?”

 

 

…hoping that he would dissuade me from doing that.

UNFORTUNATELY, he liked the idea. He said it made the story feel more cathartic and gave it emotional power. He said it was the type of ending that would make him take action in his own life and his own relationships. 

Isn’t that exactly the reaction we all want our readers to have? For the story to truly touch them? And I’ll admit… I knew deep down it was the right choice. It didn’t make it the easier one, though.

I sat on the fence about it for about two hours before making the decision. And even when I started to write it, I was still convincing myself that it was just an experiment and I could totally go back and try it the other way.

ALSO: How to Celebrate not Finishing Your First Draft

But I think my body knew the entire time that the thing I typed would be the ending I chose. I felt sick to my stomach—physically sick to the point where I was afraid I would hurl over my keyboard.

The reason I felt so sick, in hindsight, was probably because I knew this was the right thing for my story. But I’m an incredibly emotional person, and I connected with these characters so deeply that the thought of not giving them a happily ever after cut way deep into my soul. 

 

 

And I do think that a lot of that came from my own fears. It’s all I’ve ever known—family grudges never resolved, only taken to extremities. A happy end wouldn’t have been authentic.

Now I can reflect, though.

I’m so incredibly grateful to my past self for putting me through that nightmare of a final writing session. When I read the scene now, I can feel the raw emotion behind it, and I don’t think that’s something I could have managed if I had actually waited for my head to clear or tried planning it out first.

That’s the thing I wish more writers would understand: your story will outgrow you.

It will change as you work on it—it’s a living, breathing, growing thing, and you’re just its note-taker. Once it does do its thing, once it surprises you, once it tells you what needs to happen—you have to listen. You have to at least try.

ALSO: Why You Will Never Finish Your Novel

 

Listen to your subconscious writer-brain

The amazing thing about all of this is the amount of foreshadowing I had already done to this ‘ending that I never planned.’ When I finished it, I went back to re-read the few chapters that came before, and I found so many sentences that I wrote without the knowledge of the end—sentences which signalled to it verbatim.

I knew it. I think I always knew the end. I joked about it before, I toyed with the idea and threw it away almost instantly, buried it, locked it into a box; until the very end, when I knew I could no longer avoid it and I had to dig it back out.

Your subconscious does SO MUCH WORK for you when you write.

It really pays off to listen to it sometimes. That’s exactly what happened in those small hours of the night while I stared at my screen in an attempt to ignore the voices in my head. Should I listen to the subconscious that’s screaming at me to try this? Or ignore it in lieu of the outline I had meticulously planned for a satisfying reader ending?

God no… This one, this ending, has so much more power.

Why? Because it’s real. Because I lived it.

So, please, if you take anything away from this, let it be to listen to your gut when it tells you something is or isn’t right. You will know it.

 


Char Anna

Char is the author of the writing guide ‘Finish Your First Novel’ and the founder of The Plottery. She’s been in the biz since 2021, and holds a BA in Film & Screenwriting as well as an MA in Creative Writing from Edinburgh Napier University.

Char resides in rainy Scotland with her pup Lavender (who is anything but calm, contrary to what her name suggests), and she writes darker fiction that focuses on unusual family dynamics and lots of queerness.

 

 

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