Epistolary #2: Closing In On 100 Books, Saying Goodbye to Coffee, and Killing My First Draft

I meant to write another Epistolary post – since I insisted that it’s a “series” I’m doing on my blog now – but I kept putting it off in favour of working on more interesting, more pressing posts. Honestly, last week was supposed to be that Ruthless Magic in-depth analysis that I’ve been vaguely working on for weeks but… apparently themes are much more difficult to sort out than I expected so that post will have to wait until next year. 

Anyway, ever since my first Epistolary, a lot of things have happened. Not all of them good but most of them aren’t nearly as bad as I thought it was. Though my paranoid pea-sized brain does tend to exaggerate every little inconvenience so that’s not really saying much.

On 100 Books

I’ve mentioned this a couple of times here in my blog but ever since my shameful failure to reach my 2017 Reading Challenge – settling on only the halfway mark, 50 books, was a bitter pill to swallow – I’ve been determined to read more this year.

And I have!

Only five books to go before I can proudly say that I conquered my 2018 Reading Challenge. Take that, 2017!

I’m genuinely overjoyed that I’ve managed to stick by this self-imposed challenge of mine. At this point, it’s not even about the number of books on my Read shelf that gives me so many warm feelings. Reviving my passion to read is achievement enough for me. The last years of my uni life forced me to put reading books that I wanted in the back burner – 2017, the year I graduated, showed how detached I had gotten from actual reading, I think – so I’m ecstatic to have gotten back into my groove.

Moreover, I read a lot of really great books this year too. A lot more than previous years, I’d wager. I think it’s because I started to follow a lot more book bloggers this year. Book Twitter alone has been a major driving force for most of my book purchases. That’s a compliment and also an accusation. Please stop forcing me to break my book ban. 

While I’ve read a lot of incredible titles this year, I’ve also read more than a few flops. I’ll be writing a post about the best and worst books I’ve read this year… sometime this week. God willing.

While we’re on the subject, I’ve also gotten back into reviewing books. Finally. Unlike the me of yesteryear, I no longer write a review on every book I pick up. I physically can’t handle such a burden anymore. I don’t know how I did it before to be honest. I can’t explain what kind of books I feel up to writing a detailed review. The truly great books I feel almost redundant talking about. And most bad books, to me, don’t seem worth the effort. I think as long as I think I have an interesting perspective on the book, I’m willing to work on a review for weeks, maybe even months, on it. 

On My Very Necessary Coffee Ban

I’ve been so obsessed with coffee for years that the idea of abstaining from it for at least a month – until my stomach acids get back to normal completely – was unimaginable. At least it was before I learned how uncomfortable having hyperacidity was. It’s not fun, being so bloated and gassy. After the third or fourth bout of hyper in the span of one week, I knew I had no choice. I had to say goodbye to coffee or risk permanent (or at least chronic) damage to my stomach. Ulcer was right around the corner and I am not fool enough to even tempt fate. 

It’s been nearly a fortnight since I made that excruciating decision but I’m happy to reveal that I’m doing… ok. Not too well since I’ seem to always be asleep nowadays but not too bad either since the withdrawal headaches are gone. It only took two or three days for my body to acclimate to not having caffeine constantly circulating in my bloodstream. Mostly I’m learning to cope with herbal teas (which are caffeine-free and safe for me, don’t worry). They make poor substitutes but, hey, they’re something.

Breaking out of my caffeine addiction was surprisingly underwhelming. I mean, sure, I’m still tempted to sneak in a cup of Joe early in the morning but it’s easy enough to shake off. My sister was right. You really do just get used it. 

Wow. This might just be my first practical decision as an adult. Took me long enough.

Killing My First Draft (and Learning How to Write Again)

I haven’t really talked about this anywhere, mostly because it’s not an easy thing to admit, giving up on a WIP after more than a year of working on it. But now that I’ve gotten used to the idea, I’m ready to overshare my thoughts and feelings on it.

About two months ago, I met up with my best friend and shared to her my troubles concerning my novel’s first draft. I gave her a general rundown of the plot, the characters in it and their goals, and the main conflict. My best friend, whose opinion and feedback I particularly hold dear, told me something that I’ve been wanting and needing to hear for months: my story wasn’t good. 

Obviously, I’m not the best at explaining in person and my best friend didn’t outright say that the story I was telling sucked. She was, however, not very impressed with the setup nor was she convinced of my antagonist’s motivations. Honestly, her candor didn’t even sting. I knew how weak my story was and have been pretty unmotivated to work on it for quite some time now. In fact, in my previous Epistolary post, I shared how difficult it was for me to stay hopeful for my writing.

Oh, I didn’t hate my novel – and I still believe in the basic concept of my story – but I didn’t really feel like it was going anywhere either. I had been writing in circles for weeks, working on chapters that I thought lead somewhere but mostly didn’t. 

I knew that my first draft was a real mess. I never pretended otherwise. However, I subscribed to the belief that all first drafts ought to be that chaotic and convoluted and only going through several drafts would a decent story finally surface. Books and articles about writing constantly reassured me that I shouldn’t expect much from my first draft. Authors I greatly admire encourage budding writers to just keep on writing so you’ll have something to fix later on. With so much advice on sticking to your first draft, I naturally assumed I was on the right track. Even as it was getting harder and harder to understand where my story was going.

After much introspection, I admit that so much first draft motivation blinded me from my own writer’s instincts and feelings. My first draft was a dud and no amount of editing and rewriting was going to salvage it. I wanted to finish the thing so badly that I ignored the aches and pains whenever I worked on a chapter. I disregarded my rapidly decreasing motivation to face my first draft day after day. And most of all, I refused to acknowledge that I really was losing interest and confidence in my work. Every time I opened my draft, I deluded myself into thinking that I was enjoying myself actually and that one day all of this was going to be worth it. Just because I was determined to see my first draft to completion doesn’t mean that that’s what my story needed. 

Again. Bitter pill to swallow.

I got too obsessed with the idea that I finally had a real novel to work on. I’ve been trying to write a novel for so long that when I managed to work on one past the fourth chapter, I was giddy with excitement, so much that I romanticized my struggles in writing the obviously hopeless story. 

Of course it hurts to have to kill my first draft. 15 chapters, 67 thousand-plus words, and god knows how many hours of writing weren’t easy or painless to let go of. But, as everyone knows, you need to kill your darlings to grow and develop as a writer. 

It’s been two months since I killed my first draft and I’ve more or less moved on from it. I don’t regret working so hard on that draft because I learned so much about myself and about writing from it. And I’m still proud of myself for having managed to write that much of a novel, no matter how shitty it turned out to be.

For now, I’ve been spending my time learning more about the nitty-gritty details on writing a novel properly so that my second draft will, hopefully, go better than the first. Reading professional writers’ books made me realize how… clueless I really was. I was a fool, nothing but a fool. Of course I got stuck in the middle of Act 2, like every foolhardy writer.

In the end though, I’m still very enthusiastic to develop my story idea further. Next year, after learning as much as I can and preparing all the story beats instead of going in every chapter blind, I’ll be ready.

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