Let me tell you a story.
It’s 2014. I’m sitting in front of my computer, watching the cursor in my Word document blink.
Each new blink feels like an insult:
Blink: you’re a hack.
Blink: you can’t do this.
Blink: this idea suuuucks.
The cursor is right—this idea does suck. I only have a few months to write this book but, no matter what I do, I can’t manage to get any real traction. Every line I type feels wooden and unoriginal. Every new character is boring. There’s no way anyone will buy this thing. My agent’s going to drop me, my husband will be disappointed, and all my friends will all realize I’m just a big hack. Sitting in front of the blank Word document, this feels like the only possible outcome and I’m suddenly sure it’s what’s going to happen. And then, the anxiety sets in. My chest gets tight, and I can’t focus, and all I want to do is curl up in bed with a few episodes of Veronica Mars and an entire bottle of wine to keep me company.
Does any of that sound familiar?
This was me, six months after my novel THE MERCILESS came out, and a little over a year after my other novel NECTAR failed to find a publisher. I had just started writing full time and I thought it was going to be magical but, instead, I was an anxious little ball of nerves and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t manage to start anything. I felt like a failure and a hack and, you know, neither of those emotions are particularly pleasant—and neither actually puts you in the mindset to write good books.
This is when I came up with the idea for the “trash draft.”
The trash draft has only one purpose—to suck. That’s right, I actually try to write badly. I set a timer and write as many words as I can in as short a time as I can. I don’t reread what I’ve written. I don’t try to make it pretty. Instead, I put all my anger and fears and frustrations right there on the page. I write hard and clear about what hurts—just like Hemingway tells us to.
Somewhere along the way, a magical thing happens—I stop being afraid. Trash drafts aren’t for other people—they’re just for you, a tool to help you get over that initial hump where all you can do is think, “but what if this is bad…” Because we all think that. Every single one of us.
That book I was writing back in 2014 became a novel called BURNING. And if you’re wondering whether a trash draft can ever turn into a real live book that doesn’t totally suck, well, BURNING’S trashy first draft went on to become a not-too-terrible novel that sold in less than a week to a major publisher and even earned a Kirkus star (my first!) It’s companion novel, BREAKING comes out in less than three months. If I had let fear stop me, those two books wouldn’t be sitting on my bookshelf right now. (Hi books! I’m so glad I made you.)
So, now here’s the hard part. What book aren’t you writing because you’re afraid to start? Picture all the things that could happen if you told your inner critic to just shut up already, set a timer and got to work. Could there be a finished draft in your future? A shiny book with your name on it sitting on your shelf? I think so.
And, if you’re still stuck, I’ve got you covered.
Look, I get that this is scary. But so are all the best things in life. Be brave. Write your novel.