Lost Notebooks and Second First Pages

About a year ago, I lost nearly 100 pages of drafting towards a project I had been trying to lay track for for many years, when the notebook I was writing it in went missing.

(I know, I know. In this day of The Cloud, why not just compose in Google docs? The simple answer is, often I do, but never for longform fiction. There is something deeply important for me as a writer in seeing the first draft of my own book-length fiction in my own hand. I handwrite the first draft, or large portions of it, and then type the second and subsequent revisions. Many writers share this approach. The hands have intelligence, the connection is important.)

But of course, sometimes that means a massive loss and setback on projects when the notebook goes AWOL. Usually, you mourn the loss, maybe cry a little, feel terrifically sorry for yourself, and then square your shoulders, take a deep breath, and start over. But in this case, I couldn’t bring myself to attempt to recreate what I had done. I was terrified I would screw it up, leave something out, starting all over again seemed so overwhelming. I just couldn’t find the heart even to try. Not across the board–I’ve been writing regularly ever since, completing several shorter projects without issue–but I was wholly blocked on this project.

And then, this past week, I had the sudden, intense urge to buy a new notebook and start again. The compulsion so strong, I just…had to. And this time, instead of warning me not to try because I would just screw it up, the little voice in my head acknowledged the truth of it, which is that you can’t screw up a first draft; the thing just needs to be written so you have something to work with. Or, as Anne Lamott so perfectly puts it, the first draft is merely the down draft–you get the writing down. The next and subsequent drafts are the up drafts, in which you fix up what you laid down in that “shitty first draft.”

So, here I go again. The second first page in this second attempt at a first draft for a new longform project.

Feels good. Feels familiar. Feels happy. ❤

What about you–have you ever lost an entire first draft of something? How did you handle it?


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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2 Responses to Lost Notebooks and Second First Pages

  1. That looks like a Leuchtturm notebook. I love notebooks, and I totally get your desire to write longhand. In fact, my first novel was written entirely longhand, and it was the only manuscript out of six to be accepted, lol. So maybe that’s saying something. Have fun with your WIP!

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