One of my favourite facts about My Lady Untamed – my debut historical romance – is that before I wrote what has more or less become the final draft, I threw out 150,000 words. That’s roughly a draft and a half.
The book was one whole thing, and now it’s another whole thing, and somewhere in the middle I panicked and thought, “How do I even know I’m writing the same book?” All the words had changed, but most of the characters remained (though fully transformed) and the premise (though turned on its head). Some of the setting. Some of the names. Actually, hardly any of the original names remain.
The first draft of My Lady Untamed was only the second book I’d written all the way through. It was my first go at writing romance, and all the chapter titles were in a curly, romantic font.
I started reading that very first draft, that has so little to do with my book now, last week.
It was hilarious and awful and fun. It’s three years old. There are lines, here and there, startling as ghosts, that still exist in this draft of the novel.
A couple of things have become clear to me: In three years I have learnt a lot about writing. I mean A LOT. I hardly even recognise that girl who sat down at her computer every day and wrote 4,000 words in a couple of hours, because she was Writing A Novel. I envy her. I pity her.
I wouldn’t give up the craft I’ve learned for anything. Putting words together like doing a logic puzzle is one of my great joys (even when I want to take my brain out and scrub it).
But there’s something about that naïve energy I miss. It’s not careful; it’s not deeply involved in what’s said about romance these days, or thinking about whether a heroine says something interesting about feminism and gender.
I don’t think it’s possible to learn to write well, and keep that energy. It’s something we have to compromise, to become professional writers. It’s something fervent, first-time authors are self-publishing, that grabs readers’ imaginations (but still sits in opposition to what we traditionally understand as “good writing”).
That draft, though. There’s one character who ONLY TALKS IN ALL-CAPS!! AND BEAT A CHINESE PRINCESS AT CHESS, JUST ‘CAUSE!! And as refreshing as it was not to over-think my heroine, she was a hopeless doormat with martyrish self-esteem issues. Not in an interesting way. Just in a Oh dear God, THIS is my deepest id? kind of way.
As far away as that draft feels, it’s the dirt this draft grew out of. I agonised over it so deeply that I had to stop reading it half way through, even though all that agony was three years ago. In writing, as in all else, we can only go forward.