First Drafts and Other Thoughts

Back then, it didn’t even really have a name. At the time, I just called it the novel.


I was unstacking boxes and rummaging through old books when I came across the old hardcover journals–three of them in total. They were the first draft of my novel. Back then, I must have been in the habit of writing first drafts on paper. These days most of my writing stays on my laptop–only journal entries get written down on paper.


It was the summer of 2002 when I started it–and perhaps it was the way I started it that made me know I was going to finish it.  This one would be simple. It would have a simple story, and I would write no less than three drafts. I would finish by the time I was 21, I had decided. What made it work was the simplicity of it. What also made it work was that I would take the hardcover journals to the beach.


There, under the sunlight, I would have romantic notions about who I was and what it was to write a novel.


For some reason, I would hold on to these rough drafts. I wanted to keep them safe. There is something of my 20-year old self, soon-to-be-21-year old self, that is ready to explode. In the pages of these hardcover journals is the ghost of this self.


He is young and less reckless than I imagine him to be. He asks to be let out so that he can roam the world.


This first book will conquer the world, he tells me. I don’t have the heart to tell him that this first book will conquer very little except the space between the hardcovers.


We’re both doomed to obscurity.


He doesn’t listen because he can’t listen. He still thinks he can conquer the world.




First drafts are both the best and the worst — they’re the most fun; they are raw and hopeful. And you never know how or when they’re going to end.


How do you make them grow into something else?


I sometimes think about getting a regular writing job–a column, a review, a regular writer of essays or news stories. Or I could work as a grant writer. This is all very impractical, of course. Under the weight of deadlines, I worry that writing would be the same thing as accounting. And if that’s the case, why not just be an accountant?


But in any event, I remember driving in my car and thinking about the kind of success I could have with the book. I was sure that it would be an indy success the same way that Trainspotting had been an indy success.


I also used other novels as models. By reading these other books, I could focus more clearly on my own writing. I read Alex Garland’s the Beach, and I read American Psycho. The flaws in these books actually inspired confidence in me to not shoot for perfection on my first book. It helped put things in perspective.


But really, how much perspective can you have when you’re 20?


But what I remember from those days of the first draft were my long walks on the beach. I remember thinking to myself that I needed to capture in my writing the feeling of being twenty, alone, filled with nerves, on the brink of exploding.


Our lives are nothing but first drafts.


…that’s the kind of sentence my twenty-year-old self would write. He conquers more than hardcover journals for now.


Instead of being rewritten we keep drifting from one page to another without end. You’re just one notebook with many pages. Imperfect. [My twenty-year-old self again.]


I’d like to think that I could throw away that first draft if I really wanted to. But I’m still there riding in the same car thinking about the next scene. One page of a first draft after another.

You can read one of the remnants of that first novel — a stand alone short story entitled “The Funeral” — right here:

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