Here’s a fun little exercise for anyone who has made it past the first, second, even the third draft of your novel. Especially if a number of years have passed since the first draft. Open up the files and look at that first draft. It’ll be a real hoot, promise.
I did so for Memory Lane and found the breakdown of pages and word count that I’d like to share with you:
First Draft (The raw draft) – Pages: 190, Words: 83,726
Second Draft (Fix the stupid, smack your forehead draft) – Pages: 244, Words: 107,137
Third Draft (The hack and slash draft) – Pages: 344, Words: 125,236
Fourth Draft (The merciless, don’t hold back, let the story have it draft) – Pages: 345, Words: 125,236
Fifth Draft (The show it to others draft) – Pages: 216, Words: 97,396
This is only the tip of the iceberg, however, because while there was content changes between each draft, there was also a format changed. The largest jump is between the first, the second, and the third draft. Between the first and third I added 154 pages and 41,510 words only to settle in the middle between the two at 97,000+ words. When I finish inputting the final changes on my sixth draft I’ll be finished with close to the same amount of words (maybe less) than what is in the 5th draft.
These figures only give a glimpse at the evolution of Memory Lane though. For a better look, I have to delve into the content of it. Considering the first draft was finished in 2007 (wow, has it really been 6 years?) a lot has changed between then and now. Not only with the book, but for myself as well. In that time I’ve moved three times, once around the world. I’ve visited two new places, had medical concerns, family concerns, kids started school, a husband who deployed. In short, I’m a different person than I was in 2007.
Even a brief skim between the different drafts scream out the effects of those changes. The most interesting is that the story line hasn’t changed in that time. In fact, all it did was mature, morphing into something more powerful and significant than it was when I finished it. In a weird sort of way, it is a mirror image of my own life. As life throws us anything from pebbles to boulders for us to work through, the events change us in some way or another.
We hope for the change to be good, for our benefit, and easy to handle. Unfortunately, at least for me, I have found the most significant are also the hardest to work my way through. Feeling lost and confused is no picnic and I know I’m not the only person to go or has gone through that. What is important is how you get to the other side and how it is reflected through your life. Personally, I became a better mother, wife, and person. For my writing, I grew in maturity.
It doesn’t center in only Memory Lane though, which is the really cool part of the process. All of my writing has improved in the years. When I’m feeling cheeky I go back to read a piece I wrote in High School, which will inevitably send me into gales of unending laughter that would no doubt have sent my 16-year-old self into tears. It’s amazing to me to realize how supportive and understanding my family and best friend (the only other person I showed it to) was of my dream to be a writer. No wonder why I didn’t win that contest I sent the story to, it is horrible!
With age we gain maturity and our world view changes with us. What was important to us five years ago doesn’t have the same weight now. How we approach our writing is reflected in this as well, even by some of the greats.
Since I use him so much, let’s go to Stephen King as proof. I have found that Stephen King fans are either a fan of his independent works or fans of his Dark Tower series. Don’t get me wrong, both groups like books from each side, but if you ask what are their favorites it’s one or the other. (Proof of this is my husband and I. I love his independent works and swear they are his best, my husband loves his Dark Tower series and says it’s the best). After his accident, he decided to go back and finish the series (finally as my husband said when he learned about it). At the beginning of book one, Stephen King adds a foreword where he talks about looking back at the first volume. I’ll quote him so you can get the idea:
“When I looked back at the first volume, which you now hold in your hands, three obvious truths presented themselves. The first was that The Gunslinger had been written by a very young man, and had all the problems of a very young man.”
My translation: It was written when he was young and stupid.
Personally, I love reading these letters from the writers about themselves as it gives me hope in knowing that I’m not alone. They went through what I’m going through now as I struggle to go from known by a handful of friends, family, and the occasional non-related to me person to being published. The doubts and questions in my head are echoed in their words and gives me the strength to accept a basic truth to life:
With age comes maturity and wisdom.
I don’t know how wise I am and in many ways I’m still young and stupid, but my passion and fire to continue holds me to this course. I hope it does the same for others as well.