Reading Old Notes from my Novel Journal

Three years ago, I was rewriting a novel I had begun in high school. I was 20 and as you’d expect, I had no clue what I was doing. I had written a lot at that point, but revising was a whole other skill I hadn’t developed.

So I turned to the internet for advice. One bit of wisdom was to warm up before a writing session by scribbling down my thoughts for a few minutes. This could be about the scene I was working on, thoughts about my characters, general ideas, or ranting about something else going on in my life.

So, before every writing session, I jotted down my thoughts in a separate Google doc, catagorized by the chapter title instead of the day’s date. Three years later, I found it again, and wow. The entries are plagued with doubts, angst, and regret. They taught me something important:

Writing is hard.

Well, duh, right? But the thing is, in the moment, we forget that struggling is part of the process. We assume that we are the only ones who have ever faced this problem and because of that, we are horrible writers who will never succeed. This is far from the truth.

If you’re struggling, you’re doing something. As my motto says: Any progress is good progress.

So if you’re feeling alone in the struggle, here are some snippets of my thoughts as I tried to revise my first novel. (I edited them to avoid spoilers and personal details.)

Chapter 23: Where I worry about one of my characters

…The guy needs serious help. He is not fit for a healthy relationship. He needs to work out all his issues. Gosh, I gave him so many issues…

Chapter 24: Where I lament a character’s death because authors do have hearts

D is so good for G! He’s kind, empathetic, he hears her and encourages her. And he’s going to DIE! Why did I do this? Why am I so evil? D and G should totally get married… They are so perfect together, and he’s going to DIE! Just why? Why must this happen?

Chapter 25: Where I lament my day job, which I was not enjoying

… I do not like this job. [It] fills me with aggression. Not writing also fills me with aggression so I feel like a million bucks today.

I also give myself a pep talk after a frustrating encounter

The thing is, you know what is best for you and what you need. Follow that. Don’t be blinded by money or external pressures; those will only drag you down. Do what only you can do. Be free. You’ve got this. Remember that you are stronger than you think. Be positive. Be brave. You can do this.

Chapter 26: A more positive pep where I’m grateful for my ideal writing conditions

Breathe in. Breathe out. I’ve got ambient apothecary sounds, vanilla-scented candle, yummy raspberry truffle maple syrup coffee, and sunlight streaming through my windows. My hair is tied back, and I’m wearing my favorite leggings, oversized zippy, and socks. Life is good. I’m going to edit 2 chapters, send them to T. Write chapter 28 and rewrite chapter 25. If I can start 29, that would be amazing. If I do all that excluding 29, that means I have only 3 more chapters left in this draft. That is insane.

I also lament a very poor choice of words in my story

“Hot anger sparks dark clouds in my vision as Daniel faces me on the top of the stairs.” What the heck does that mean?????

Chapter 30: Where I’m sick of the 9–5 and miss mornings, which is when I write best

… I hate this job. I hate my life the way it is now, the schedule, it’s awful. I’m not meant for this full-time stuff. I need to make my own hours to suit my needs. I really don’t want to go to work tomorrow. Good-bye, sacred mornings. It’s been nice having you in my life but now I’m entering the real world where you gotta do what you hate to live. Yippee. Now I’m gonna suck up this self-pity, drink coffee, and write, cuz I’ve got the time to do it and I’m not going to waste it. Please G-d, don’t let me write badly today.

Note: I know how whiny this passage is, but keep in mind that I was 20 and entering the adult world for the first time. Besides, I don’t think I was the only one feeling this way at that age.

Chapter 31: Where I doubt the entire book

I think I finished draft 2… I mean I still gotta edit over the last few chapters… but sheesh. What does that even mean? I don’t know if I’m ready for this. Why did I write such a depressing story? These last two chapters are going to make me feel so sad.

You’re not alone

I share these passages in the hopes that someone will relate to them. I remember how isolated and upset I felt during that time, and those emotions are reflected in my entries. The thing is, nowadays, when I see other young aspiring writers in person or online, they are going through an almost identical journey. Including the part where they feel like they are the only ones going through it. This is my response to them: You’re not. We’ve all been there, and trust me, things do get better.

So good luck, and keep writing! And keep a novel journal. Aside from warming up your typing fingers, it can capture a very special but trying part of your life. Hopefully, in three years or so, you’ll look back at it and marvel at how much better your world has become.

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