Don’t judge your book by your first draft.
The day I actually stared at the computer and started writing my first novel was around eight years ago. It was a serious struggle. I wrote the first chapter about five or six times, dissolving into tears of frustration because I just couldn’t make that first chapter perfect, and of course, it had to be perfect before I could move on.
One day, my husband finally had enough of this insanity and said to me, “Hey, I have an idea. How about you write another chapter?”
Clearly, he didn’t get it. Writing books didn’t work like that. Words were supposed to spill forth from my brain like tiles made of diamonds and form a beautiful mosaic masterpiece. If I couldn’t do that—well, I must not be a real writer.
Being the artist that he is (in fact, he created my book cover), he told me that the first draft is like the sketch of the story. It’s the lightly drawn outline that can easily be erased where necessary, but allows you to visualize where you want everything to go.
It took me longer than I’m proud of to decide that he was right. I was so certain that Stephen King’s first drafts were perfect from the beginning and had no need of editing. But then I recalled how the King had thrown Carrie in the garbage and his wife had fished it out for him and encouraged him to keep writing.
This gave me some courage. I wrote another chapter. Then another. The writing of that first draft grew uglier as I pushed forward. Yet, the story became better. I was learning to set aside the need for perfection and listen to my characters and fall in love with them.
Around two years later, on my birthday, I finally finished it. That’s how long it took me to let go of the illusion of a perfect first draft, but letting go was the only way I could see it completed.
Beautiful things can grow from ashes.
I grew up in a living Bob Ross painting. On one side of my hometown are majestic mountains capped with snow about eight months of the year. On the other side are rolling, green hills framing stunning sunsets that paint the sky with vivid pinks and oranges. All along the hills and mountainside are farms. True cattle farms with acres and acres of land for them to graze and roam. Living at the base of the mountains as a kid, I’d hunt for dinosaurs in the woods of my backyard (and caught several, thank you very much). A few years ago, a massive fire broke out and turned the rolling green hills to ash. I remember driving home to visit my parents and bursting into tears. The gorgeous landscape I had so dearly loved had become unrecognizable. However, after a season of snow and rain, I again visited my parents. I was shocked to see vibrant, green grass growing where only ash had been. The burned countryside was healing, and beautiful things were coming to life where there had once been scars. Now, my brain has many scars from abuse I endured while in a quote-unquote “romantic” relationship when I was younger. To deal with the trauma of the experience, I created a world that I could escape to when the flashbacks threatened to drag me under. The characters in this world carried me through years of trying to find myself again and heal. The characters that saw me through this—they are in this book. I felt like they deserved life after everything they’d done for me. Really, it was the least I could do. And writing their stories has led to publishing, which is a dream I‘ve had since I was tiny! Truly, ashes can become a fertile soil to grow the most beautiful things, so long as you hang on through the winter. Please hang on. Don’t you ever give up!
Never give up! Never surrender!
I’d finished the first draft of my first novel. I had an idea for a sequel and I really wanted to make sure they would flow together. So, I decided to get that rough sketch of the second novel down before polishing the first one. I met a woman at church who also wanted to write novels. We exchanged our story ideas through e-mail. She was a bit insulting towards my idea, but I brushed it off. I loved my story, it was fine if she didn’t. Frankly, I didn’t like her ideas, either. She organized a writing group and on our first group call, she took charge and introduced her story. I expected one of her vague, ill-conceived ideas but instead—it was a plot and character backstory strikingly similar to mine. I immediately confronted her about it, but she insisted that, while she’d stolen the idea, it was totally and accidentally stolen from someone else. I went along with her tale—stranger things had happened. And we were friends, so surely she wouldn’t lie to me.
Like Princess Leia, I was far too trusting.
I continued sharing ideas and scenes with the group… and she continued stealing from them. Her behavior grew more malicious. Our friendship didn’t end well. I’d finished the second novel, but I didn’t feel like I could use it, or the first one. I didn’t know just how much she’d stolen from me, or what she’d do with what she’d stolen if I had even a hint of success. I cried a lot. For a long time. Not just over the years of work, but over the characters. I adored those characters. If they didn’t get written, it would be like they died. One day, while standing in the kitchen, all of my heartbreak rose to the surface. All of it. Not just over the books. And something wonderful happened. Words flowed into my mind with those emotions. Words that I didn’t hate. Words with purpose. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and wrote them down, and they became the beginnings of this novel—new story, same great characters! I wrote everything from the gut. I slipped things into the story that have actually happened to me, so the world will know the injustice—but they won’t know that they know. It gave me closure, and an opportunity to use my experiences to try to help others.
The first chapter introduces a suicidal girl who meets a magical musician/motivational speaker who dresses in drag on Ladies Night. There’s a portal, man-eating monsters, aliens and the threat of the apocalypse, and it just gets more delightful from there. And it is waaay better than either of the other books. Man, that woman can keep my crappy first attempts! Those novels were the weird stress dreams of my characters. This one?
This is the real story.
It’s like I was saying: beautiful things can grow from ashes. This book wouldn’t be what it is now if those first two books hadn’t been burned to the ground. What grew from those ashes was the story I’d meant to tell all along. The key is to listen to Commander Peter Quincy Taggart: “Never give up! Never surrender!” When life mercilessly leaves you lost, hold on to every thread of hope you can find, and never give up. It’ll be worth it. I promise.
Meet the writer:
Samantha Rose is a forever-student at Utah State University, who will one day have her Masters Degree in Psychology. She wrote her first novel in permanent marker on her sister’s vanity chair when she was three-years-old. It wasn’t well received.
She currently resides in the mountains, in a little house full of toys, where she’s enjoying her happily ever after with her Prince Charming and three adorable, little bears.
Her debut novel, The Very Real World of Emily Adams, releases June 9th.
You can find Samantha @ whererosewritesverytruestories.com .
How do you find time to write?
I seize time to write whenever my kids and husband will let me. I even take my laptop with me on trips—no matter how small the trip—just in case an opportunity presents itself. If we go shopping and my husband wants to go into a store that I have no interest in visiting, I have my laptop! I happily wait in the car and write away. Stuck waiting for an hour at the doctor’s office? I just got an hour of writing done! My goal is to write something every day, even if it’s just a sentence.
Do you have any special writing rituals or routines?
Sometimes, before I start writing, if I want to really immerse myself in the mood of a scene, I will listen to music that fills my mind with the emotions I’m trying to capture.
What is the strangest thing you researched for this book?
I actually did a decent amount of research on the Mothman. I watched a creepy documentary twice, and read a book called “Encounters with Flying Humanoids” by Ken Gerhard. The Mothman was one of the early inspirations for some of my characters. I thought, “What if the Mothman was a government experiment that got loose?” And then, “What if people on other planets were conducting similar experiments?” And it all spiraled from there.