The other night, I came across a mostly-complete 90,000-word draft of my novel that I’d written when I was 16 years old. This came as quite a surprise to me, because I didn’t even remember I had a mostly-complete draft from that early on. I knew I’d started writing a version of this story for Na­No­Wri­Mo in 2007, but then I thought the first complete-ish draft I had was from 2011 or thereabouts. Not only that, but this draft is strikingly different from both those drafts (it’s not like the 2011 draft sans edits) – it’s a whole version of the story that I’d forgotten ever existed.

If it’s different from my 2011 draft, then obviously, it’s even more distant from the draft I’m working on now, in 2023. It’s like, the general structure is there but literally every single event in the story is different. What surprised me rereading it is that in a lot of ways, it’s not really worse than what I have now, just different. You’d think that 13½ years of sweeping changes and rewrites would’ve resulted in something unambiguously better, and there are definitely ways that it is (prose quality, better fleshed-out secondary characters, actually telling the reader about elements of the worldbuilding before they become important to the plot, certain major tipping points actually making sense instead of being kind of implausible… so I guess a lot of ways) but there are also aspects of this older draft that I kind of prefer, or maybe don’t prefer, but at least see as legitimate choices with some advantages over what I changed the story to.

For example, this older version of the story sits firmly within the YA genre. The main character is younger (14 instead of 18) and she really acts like it. She still lives with her parents, who play a much larger role in the story as a result, trying to talk to the MC about what’s going on and enforcing discipline and stuff. Because she’s younger, her relationship with the MMC is really just as friends (they do go for extended hugs sometimes…), which is a major difference from what I have now. There’s a part where one specific character makes fun of her (dishonestly) for having had sex with the MMC, and she’s MORTIFIED because she’s FOURTEEN and OBVIOUSLY she would NEVER… in my current draft, that same character makes fun of her for much the same, and while she’s still mortified, it’s for a very different reason (because it’s private, not because it’s untrue). The ending is also different – in some ways better, in some ways worse, but different in such a way that I respect its choices. I think the inspiration from dystopian books I’d read like 1984, A Clockwork Orange or I Am the Cheese is a lot more apparent in the older draft.

I, personally, feel like I grew out of YA books many years ago. I know some adults are happy to keep reading them and that’s totally fine, I cast no shade on that, but I personally just don’t connect with them any more (and I get annoyed at all the plot contrivances in YA science fiction & fantasy that wouldn’t fly in a book aimed at grown-ups). So as a result, I definitely think I prefer the “darker & sexier” version of the story that I’m working with now. But I also think there’s a parallel universe out there where I was happy for this story not to grow up as I did, and kept on refining it as a YA novel, and had it actually turn out pretty good.

I can’t pretend I’m not half-tempted to polish this old draft now, but I’m not sure WTF I’m supposed to do with a bonus version of the same story 😂 I don’t think it’s different enough that I could just change all the character names and pass it off as a different story – the main character’s arc is pretty much the exact same, for example, even though the specific story events are different. Maybe if I introduced some sweeping changes, like I did to my existing novel, but in a different direction. But even then, I’m not sure it’d be worth it because it’d depend on what those would be. At any rate, it’s definitely a can I should kick down the road rather than obsessing over now! My 2023 draft deserves my attention 😂