A couple of years ago, I wrote the first draft of a novel. Not my first attempt at a full-length story, but it was one I felt had the most promise. It took me nearly six months to complete the first draft. There were many bursts of writing, followed by reading and re-reading, then deleting and starting over. But eventually, finally, I completed the first (very rough) draft.
Overall, I was happy with how it turned out. The bones were there, solid bones, but they weren’t held together very tightly. I didn’t like the opening pages. The story didn’t have a strong beginning. As a reader, I wouldn’t have been interested to read more. So I spent another month or so working on it, trying to get the words just right.
Frustration set in. Writers reading this will understand. Sometimes you hit a roadblock in a story. At first, the story is playing out in your head, you’re just following it along. Then, suddenly, there’s a pothole, a blank spot in the road ahead, and the story continues on the other side. The problem is trying to fill that pothole, connect the two halves. Usually, I can play around with it, try a few things, then something connects and I can finish writing the story.
This was like that, only it was at the very beginning. Initially, I was able to just write something to get me going. The rest of the story came together more or less as I hoped it would. It needed work, of course. No first draft should ever see the light of day. But I was happy with it
My solution was to walk away from it for a bit. I figured distance and distraction would allow my head to clear and I could come back to it with a new perspective. I’ve done that before with my short stories.
A few weeks turned into a few months, which silently turned into a few years. I would think about it every now and then. I would think about that stubborn beginning. I’d remember the different versions I had written, and how none of them fit well. I’d then tell myself to stop thinking about it for a while longer.
Recently, I had a dream about the story. I don’t remember all the details. Most of those faded quickly after I woke. What I do remember was seeing different scenes from the story playing out, like I was there, standing to one side like an invisible observer. One of those scenes stuck with me after I opened my eyes. It stayed with me for a few days, playing in the background as I went about my day.
Then it hit me. That was the opening.
It had been there all along. Just in the wrong place in the narrative. Cutting and pasting it to the beginning was as satisfying as fitting the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. But unlike a puzzle piece, it’s not a perfect fit. It needs to be reworked.
Still, it has me feeling like it’s time to move forward with this story. I’m ready to start on the second draft, beginning with cleaning up the new opening. It’s been a long time coming, and I do feel guilty for having ignored it for so long, but I know it’s going to be a fun trip.