Starting Over

So, it’s been uh … more than seven months since I last updated this blog. I’m the absolute worst. I realize that also, my past few blog posts have pretty much just been long apologies as to why I wasn’t updating. Soooo basically this blog has gone down the toilet.

But I’m not giving up yet! As much as I keep neglecting this blog, I do actually care about it and want to keep it updated. So, I’m really going to try to stay more on top of it. I mean it this time! (She said for the five millionth time.)

To get to the actual subject of this blog post, I wanted to talk about my experience this past year, which was my last year of college. That’s right––I graduated! Isn’t that crazy? Seems like just yesterday, I started college. … (Just kidding, it feels like it was forever ago.)

In case you don’t believe me, here is photographic evidence:

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How did I earn this diploma, you ask? Well, at the school I attended (Hampshire College), there is this weird thing called Div III which is kind of like a senior thesis, but a bit more … self-designed? I don’t really know. I kind of explained it in my last post.

As I also explained in that post, my project was called The Waters and the Wild and was based on Irish mythology. At the time I wrote that post, I was in the very beginning stages––and since then, the project has transformed a lot.

It started out as kind of a generic fantasy, about a teenage girl living in an ambiguous “village” setting, who then stumbles upon a portal into another world and has magical adventures. As I said I would, I used NaNoWriMo as a means to get the story off the ground. By the end of December I had written about 200 pages.

And … I hated what I had written. Well, maybe hated is a strong word––but I was extremely frustrated with it. It didn’t feel genuine to me. It felt like I was just forcing out words, and focusing too hard on reaching the end instead of on trying to make it a good story.

From the beginning, my committee (the two professors who were helping me with the project) had been telling me that quality was more important than quantity. Deep down I knew they were right, but I had trouble getting past the belief that the only way to demonstrate my progress was to write hundreds of pages. They kept telling me it would be better to write a polished portion of a novel than to try to write an entire book in eight months, but I was still fixated on my goal of finishing something for that whole first semester.

Now it was the second semester, and I found myself with 200+ pages of … word vomit, basically. I didn’t feel like continuing with it, I was tired of looking at it, and it felt like there was something huge missing from it. Then, as I continued doing my research on Irish mythology, I started learning more about the Great Famine in 1840s Ireland. The more I thought about it, the more I started thinking of ways I could incorporate it into my story. The only problem was, with all the huge changes I had in mind, I would essentially have to start over again.

I had never really started a novel from scratch before. I had done thorough revisions and rewritten scenes and whatnot, but had never completely re-conceptualized a book this way. But I knew it was the best thing to do. And when I brought it up with my committee, they supported the decision. In fact, they told me to write the second draft without looking at the first draft at all.

This was kind of shocking advice to me at the time. I couldn’t imagine going into the second draft without referencing the first draft at all. But despite my reservations, I tried it. And you know what? It worked. If I had been looking at the first draft, I would have been tied down to all the mistakes I’d made the first time around. It would have been too easy to cling to what I’d already written, and therefore fall prey to my old weaknesses.

Instead, I looked at the story through fresh eyes. This time around, I knew what I had done wrong in the rough draft and I knew to avoid making the same mistakes. At first, I was hesitant because I felt like I was throwing out 200 pages of work. But in the end, I didn’t feel that way. That first draft wasn’t a waste of time; I had to get through it first in order to realize what I really wanted to do.

In the end, the “final” project I handed in was only five chapters of the new draft––but it was much more revised and polished than the original. So, I still have a lot of it left to write, but I’m glad my experience at college gave me the platform to start it.

P.S. Did I mention I did some illustrations for it, as well? 🙂

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Sorry for such a long-winded explanation of my project. This is what I get for not writing for more than half a year; I have way too much to say. 😛 But hopefully it was enlightening in some way!

How about you guys? What do you do when you’re frustrated with a story and don’t feel like continuing? Have you ever completely re-written a story––and what was that experience like? If you never have, is it something you would ever try?