Scraping the Bottom

Yesterday, I battled my way to the end of draft 1 of ‘Eldritch’. Today, however, I’m wondering why I bothered.

You might ask ‘Why? Surely it’s good to have reached the end of another first draft?’

Well. The reason for my disillusion today is, of course, that the quality of the work produced goes down very fast when you’re feeling tired, or uninspired, or unhappy in any way with any aspect of your life or your writing. I knew yesterday that my bucket was scraping the stones at the bottom of my well of inspiration, but I kept sending it down anyway, expecting it to be full when it got back to the top.

Of course, it was – but it was full of mud and rock and surprised, wriggling insects not used to seeing the light of day, and perhaps a clump or two of mouldy moss, too. The clear water was all gone.

Photo Credit: Kash_if via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kash_if via Compfight cc

I got the work done, all right – I got the story told. But I couldn’t have been less happy, even as I was writing it, with the work I was producing. Once I’d taken the story as far as I could, I saved my file, closed down my computer and sat with my bone-shaking tiredness for a few minutes, my mind feeling disconnected from my physical body and the world around me. Even as I sat there, literally having just typed ‘The End’, I started to understand what was wrong with the story as I’d written it.

A short list of What’s Wrong with My Book

– An unnecessary meeting with several unnecessary characters.

– A complete lack of character development for the antagonist, and not enough time given to his reasons for his actions.

– A total fail in my world-building, and not enough time devoted to working out my magical system.

– The story is far too heavily weighted at the front – in other words, too many pages are devoted to the first ‘half’ of the adventure, and not enough to the second. The only positive in this is the fact that the ‘finished’ draft came in at just under 62,000 words, which is a lot shorter than my norm; there’s plenty of scope for expansion.

Yesterday, when I finished writing, I felt hopeless. I felt despairing. I began to question whether I should even continue with my plans for my career, and I began to fret that I wasn’t deserving of all that I’d accomplished so far – having several stories published, gaining an agent, slowly building a following and a readership on social media. This feeling didn’t last, of course, though the thoughts, and the deeper insecurities, took a little longer to disperse. I’m not sure they’ll ever really go away, but so long as they stay quiet long enough for me to get on with the work, I’ll be happy.

Luckily, I slept well and have woken this morning in a much better frame of mind, with a clearer idea of what I can do to ‘fix’ the story. It’s not a total waste of time and effort, as I thought yesterday. It’s not the worst thing ever put on paper (though it’s probably in the same ballpark!) It’s not unsalvageable. I know that I can fix it, and bring it to a point where I won’t be ashamed to share it with other people. Right now, if my agent read it I’m sure her hair would turn white and she’d burn our agent-author agreement; I know it won’t always be this way. It’s going to be a big job, but I’m equal to it.

However, today is not the day I’m going to start working on it.

Today is going to be a day for getting to all the other tasks I’ve been neglecting for the past couple of months while I’ve been up to my neck with writing. There are jobs to be done in literally every corner of my house, and there’s a book to be read, and there are walks to be taken, and there is (if I have any energy left!) baking to do, and I’m looking forward to the sort of good, clean tiredness that comes from having an exhausted body, instead of an exhausted mind, at the end of today. I’m hoping that, as soon as I take my eyes off my well of inspiration, that it will slowly start to fill up again, and that the good clear water I need to sustain me will start to trickle through the stones again. I’m not planning to send my bucket near it for a while.

Finishing a novel isn’t easy. It takes focus and dedication and bloody-mindedness. You need to have a story you can’t rest until you’ve finished telling, and you need to have some idea – even only in outline – of how you’re going to get to the end of it. Even so, a first draft is likely to have missteps and forced steps and illogical steps and errors, but that’s all right. Getting the skin over the bones of your story, even if it’s stretched, is good. Once that’s done, you can go back and settle it properly. If you force it, though, what happens is you begin to think there’s not enough story, or you haven’t done enough work in the writing of it, or you aren’t enough, and slowly but surely you lose hope. I’m sure many thousands of stories have fallen at the first hurdle, but I should think many thousands more have fallen at the last. Beginning a story and clip-clopping your way through the middle can be fun; bringing everything to a conclusion is tough, and chances are it won’t work right the first time you try it. But all I can say is, don’t give up when you’ve got that far. Leave it alone for a bit, and come back to it once your mind has had a chance to forget all about it.

Stop scraping the bottom. Let your well re-fill. Once you do, there’ll be plenty of water for all the stories you have nestling within you, waiting for their time to bloom.

Photo Credit: ViaMoi via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ViaMoi via Compfight cc

 

2 thoughts on “Scraping the Bottom

  1. Jan Hawke

    *stuffs nag mode into soundproof cave*Upside of your short list –
    ‘Unnecessary’ scenes and characters can easily be taken out and/or beefed up to put to meaningful work for shoring up, for instance…

    the pen picture of unsatisfactorily defined central characters like antagonists, or give additional depth to pivotal events?

    top heavy is a subjective thing – scene setting/background is important and shouldn’t be skimped on, so see what comes out of the first pass edit and then fret about padding out the latter stages 😉

    As for muddied waters – they’re full of life and colour and anyway, most people would prefer a headily spiced fish gumbo than a thin clear broth. ‘Clean’ doesn’t necessarily make for mean and moody and it can be where most of your atmospherics come into their own – your editor will at least have plenty to work with and build on!

    *sidles off to cheerleader practice…* 😛

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      🙂

      Yes, all that you’ve said is very true. I know that the mucky nonsense I was dredging up from the depths of my mind yesterday evening was full of ‘life’, in a sense – and I’m sure I’ll use it as fertile ground for future growth – but I meant that I didn’t feel I was doing my best work yesterday. In fact, I know I wasn’t. And it was nobody’s fault but my own!

      Thanks for your comments about my list of stuff that went wrong, too. Perhaps in the fullness of time and with the coolness that comes with stepping away from the work for a few days, I’ll start to see that it’s not as huge a disaster as I thought. I understand totally what you’re saying about scene-setting – and thank you, because I hadn’t seen it that way – but I do still think the latter half of the book is underdeveloped.

      But hey. That’s what first drafts are for, yes? Getting the bones on the page? I’ll worry about fleshing ’em out later. 🙂

      Thank you for your kind and supportive comment!

      Reply

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