Do you remember the time when you took that first graceful leap off the high dive? If you were like me, it wasn’t graceful. And it wasn’t really a leap either. More like stepping out into nothing and then dropping straight down. And in your mind, you prayed to God—something you may have never done before—that you would do whatever He called you to, just as long as His mighty hand swooped down and saved you from your act of stupidity. Which you never would have done, by the way, if it weren’t for the long line of kids behind you, each one with an accusing smirk and eyes that said: What, are you scared?
So down you went, your eyelids squeezed tight, your teeth clenched, and your cheeks ballooned out like Dizzy Gillespie. Your spine stiffened, every bone and muscle bracing for the impact. You even pinched off your nose, mashing flesh to cartilage in order to avoid a gushing of water that would almost certainly feel like a brain enema. (Assuming, of course, you had any brains left.) And then, realizing that God’s miraculous hand was nowhere around, your prayer turned from “God help me!” to a long trailing “Aaaeeeee!” an ancient cry in a Cro-Magnon language programmed within the structure of your double-helix, and that literally translates into: “Please, no belly flop. Anything but a belly flop!” And you uttered that cry because deep down you hoped your leap of faith wouldn’t also dish out a double helping of humiliation to go with the gallon of bile-tasting fear you had just swallowed.
Finally, you hit the water and realized it wasn’t all that bad. Sure it wasn’t pretty. In fact, if there were any Olympic judges around, they might have gently asked you to leave and never come back. After all, they have standards and seeing a boy (in my case) climb out of the water with the waistband of his swim suit now tucked under his armpits didn’t garner any points for style. Still, you survived. And the next words out of your mouth weren’t about your relief to feel the earth beneath your feet or the air in your lungs. Instead, you turned to your friend and said, “Let’s do that again.”
If you’ve lived long enough (and by reading this, you have apparently lived to see the sun rise and fall on the other side of that high dive) you know that life is full of experiences like this. The very things that at one time had terrorized you now don’t even raise a heartbeat. And while you didn’t overcome with grace and style, you still overcame. You have the t-shirt to prove it.
NaNoWriMo 2009 was like that for me. Coaxed onto the ladder by a friend, I climbed up to the diving board, snapped on a pair of angry eyes to stare my fear in the face, and then took the plunge. Looking back on the performance, now with a printed copy of the manuscript in my hands, I see that some parts weren’t altogether pretty. There are missed words. There’s a point where I changed the spelling of a character’s name (from Lauren to Laura). And then there are sentences that would make even the likes of Charles Dickens cross his eyes.
Still, I am looking at my manuscript with a sense of wonder and pride. I took the jump and found out it wasn’t all that bad. There are places in the novel where I find myself smiling and thinking: That’ll do just fine.
The plan right now is to read it completely through with fresh eyes, making some notes along the way. I want to immerse myself back into the story, allowing its juices to seep into my mind. I want to experience the story as a reader might. Then, once I’m finished, I’ll venture back through to make the necessary changes.
So far, the experience is awesome. The honeymoon is still there. And the nice thing? I do have the t-shirt.
How about you? What was your first novel writing experience like? Is the glow still there? I would love to read about it.
Until next time…