I had the rare experience this week of finishing a first draft of a novel, something I think might be the rarest writing milestone of all, not counting, perhaps, certain post-publication accomplishments having to do with sales or awards, things that are really out of the writer's control.
Many people start a novel. A fairly small percentage of those write a second scene. The percentages continue to go down, probably exponentially, for the various milestones during that first draft--chapter two, the middle, whatever. But few people actually finish that first draft, and, fo me, it's the hardest part. It's something I've now done only three times in a lifetime of writing.
Some might say finishing the final manuscript is even more rare, but I'd argue with that. I've probably been absolutely sure I finished-finished-for-realsies-this-time my first manuscript 12 or more times. My second manuscript has been finished-no-really-I-mean-it-no-doubt-about-it at least a half dozen times. I fully expect to follow that same pattern on this one.
But the hardest thing in all the world of writing, at least for me, is finishing that first draft. For one thing, it takes me forever. I first conceived this story while reading a book the summer I worked in Germany, in 2005. In my files, I have a page of notes that's dates 9/25/2005. It bears a slight resemblance to certain plot elements in my story. I have another file of notes that goes to the end of the story, dated 7/16/2006. The earliest draft of a chapter one that I can find is dated June 1, 2007, nearly two years after the story first occurred to me.
Now, to be fair to myself, during that time I finished two other novels, several times each. And, since then, as I've mentioned, I've finished those first two several more times. I've also reworked many other vintage (yeah, I'm old enough to use that word) short stories and poems. So it's not like I haven't been writing. Well, mostly.
But I also went through long periods where I lost faith in the story or, more precisely, my ability to write it. This has been the most challenging story I've written (something I hope to say about every new project). I went through several false starts, several restarts, long periods of research and contemplation, and even longer periods of total neglect.
And now, just shy of the eighth anniversary of the story's conception, it finally has an ending. Judging by my past history, this isn't the ending it will have when I finish-no-I-mean-it-I'm-really-done for the sixth or seventh time, but it's still an ending.
Now the work of revising begins. I'm a careful reviser, or try to be, and it takes me a long time and several drafts. before the first hey-I'm-finally-done completion milestone.
But this week, I'm not going to think about that. I'm going to bask in the moment of finally reaching an end, even if it's not the end. I'm going to enjoy the strong emotion of having reached the end of a first draft that has fought against me every step of the way.
I've subdued the beast. Now I have to tame it.