Writing Ugly Babies
Rebecca Lynn Aulph on the aftermath of National Novel Writing Month.
Upon completing my NaNoWriMo novel, I called my dad, updated my social media statuses, and then I took a shower. In the bathroom time machine, I traveled back to high school. I bid farewell to everyone — at least my drama class — saying that I would write a book someday and that some of them may find themselves in it. Because none of them appeared in my first novel, I started writing a young adult series in my head as I rinsed the shampoo out of my hair.
Junior year of high school, I took Honors American Literature with Mrs. Thomas. Before we started reading any of “the Greats,” she informed the class, “None of you will ever write The Great American Novel because you’re from Grand Blanc, Michigan.” When we handed in our first papers, she told us, “No mother thinks her baby is ugly, but I am here to tell you that I had an ugly baby.”
Then, she passed around a Polaroid photo of her daughter, Meredith, a senior at the same school. “Fortunately, she grew out of it,” Mrs. Thomas continued, before recounting the clichéd, “ugly in the cradle, pretty at the table.” “Your papers are ugly babies,” she said. I disliked my English teacher for attempting to crush my dream of writing a novel for the literary cannon, but I loved her for reassuring me that we all have ugly babies, some of which grow up and become beautiful. From that moment on, I feared the already pretty ones.
In most of my college admittance essays, I told the tale of the discouraged Great American novelist. After admission, I shared the ugly baby story with friends struggling to write research papers and essays. When I learned that my senior project, a creative nonfiction piece, received a passing grade but not the honors I desired — probably because it contained too many typos — my friend sent me a Breaking Bad News with Baby Animals Post Card. It reminded me that my baby was ugly.
After comparing my previous drafts to my final project, though, one professor said that I made the greatest revisions she had ever seen. In other words, I did not write the best paper, but I did the best job rewriting one. Still, I never printed a copy for myself to read. The project passed as a graduation requirement, but it didn’t pass my life requirement. I told my family and friends that I would not relax until I achieved my goal.
So, I wrote a novel for National Novel Writing Month in November, and now I know that I have to do more than write an unedited book to make myself happy. I have to read it without rewriting all of it – my New Year’s resolution. I bought a laser printer, but it’s still in the box. Once I set it up and print out that first draft in all its ugliness, I am going to read it in full with a latte. Then, I’ll reread it with a red pen to mark it up and make it uglier before beautifying it. I’ll repeat this process for as long as necessary, until my first draft turns into baby Frankenstein.
By the time I let someone else read my novel, I pray that it’s reached awkward adolescence, a stage at which others can help me see how pretty it will become.
Rebecca Lynn Aulph is an intern at Deep South, living in Decatur, Georgia. Find out more about her in our Contributors section, and read her first two posts about National Novel Writing Month here and here.