Tag Archives: terrible first drafts

*Tears Out Hair*

So, I’m editing.

It would be brilliant, wouldn’t it, if we could just write and have done with it. If every word that spilled forth in our first drafts was the most perfectly crafted jewel, settling happily into place without a whimper. Sadly, however, this is not true of anyone (no matter what they tell you), and if anyone who wants to write is reading this and believes it to be true, then please allow me to dispel the notion.

Photo Credit: bsolah via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: bsolah via Compfight cc

Editing is what it’s all about. That doesn’t make it fun; far from it. But it’s unavoidable.

However – for the first time – I know that, right now, I am not the only person editing my work. As I labour away on the manuscript for ‘Web’ (not its real name), my wonderfully patient and hardworking agent is hacking through ‘Emmeline’ (also, not its real name), and I can’t help wondering how it’s going, whether she’s found any major clangers, and/or whether she’s now regretting with every fibre of her being that she ever offered me representation. I’m very lucky (and I know it) to be represented by an agent who likes to edit, who works with her clients to get their work as polished as possible before submitting it to publishers; as well as that, as an editor she has worked with the likes of Roddy Doyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce, which is simultaneously impressive and terrifying.

Roddy Doyle. Frank Cottrell Boyce. And me.

Anyway. It’s best not to think about these things.

Yesterday, I finished my first read-through of ‘Web’. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. I’m going through a bit of a crisis, actually, because I’m pretty certain that ‘Emmeline’ is a better book, albeit very different in style and tone; surely, one is supposed to improve from book to book, and a writer is meant to get better the more they write – right? Well, not if I’m anything to go by. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I am still very much wrapped up in ‘Web’; I’ve only just finished the first draft, after all, and the first read-through is still fresh in my mind. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s my instincts telling me that ‘Emmeline’ was more original, more interesting, better structured and paced, and that ‘Web’ is far more pedestrian. Having said that, it’s reasonably interesting until about three-quarters of the way through, when it seems to fall apart a bit. I’m not sure why, yet, but I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out.

I am the kind of person who finds it hard to see other options when a first draft hasn’t gone the way I wanted – I’ve set the story down, now, and it’s a huge challenge for me to see that it can actually go in any one of thousands of other directions. It’s like my brain settles itself into a groove, like a river cutting through rock, and that’s it. Getting some distance from the text will help, but I am pretty sure that even if I left it alone for months I’d still manage to come back to it and fall into my old patterns again. This is why it’s so important to have someone else edit your work – it’s practically impossible for anyone, no matter how talented or good or experienced – to read their work the way an editor would. It’s even tough to read your own work the way a reader would. Distancing yourself from it is the best thing you can do, but it’s not foolproof.

How brilliant is this bookshop? I'm pretty sure anything you'd read in here would seem like the best thing in the history of the world... *resolves to track down said bookshop* Photo Credit: pedrosimoes7 via Compfight cc

How brilliant is this bookshop? I’m pretty sure anything you’d read in here would seem like the best thing in the history of the world… *resolves to track down said bookshop*
Photo Credit: pedrosimoes7 via Compfight cc

I hope that my feelings today are a combination of my natural tendency to be hard on myself coupled with the fallout from my ‘speed wobble’ earlier in the week, and not a consequence of my disimprovement as a writer. It would perhaps be better to remind myself that I have managed to bring a story seed to a complete first draft in little over two months, and that is something I should celebrate, not lament. It’s also good to remind myself, from time to time, that working hard, and fast, means that you don’t have a lot of time for reflection, and that it’s easy to forget that simply completing a book is a great achievement. If I didn’t have a first draft, I’d have nothing to work with at all. Second drafts and third drafts and published books can’t exist without first drafts, after all.

Also, as someone very wise reminded me last weekend, it doesn’t always follow that the book you, as a writer, love the most is the book your readers will love the most. I might feel that ‘Web’ is not my best work, but something about it could appeal strongly to someone else, and they might take something from it that I hadn’t even seen. Also, ‘Emmeline’ – which is my favourite of the books I’ve written so far, even though I know it’s not flawless – may never be read by anyone but my agent and me.

Gah. This writing business is tough, y’know? And not always for the reasons you’d expect. Lucky I love it, I guess!

 

 

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It must be because I am, essentially, built for life in a fjord that I just can’t cope with hot weather. At the same time, I hate complaining about it, because it’s so rare in these parts. For the past couple of days we’ve been having a mini-heatwave (blue skies from horizon to horizon, barely a cloud, still and heavy air, baking in temperatures of 24 – 28 degrees Celsius, on average), and it completely threw my circuitry for a loop. Today it’s still dry, and warm, and heavy, but the sky is more like a huge greyish-white duvet and there’s a bit of a breeze.

So, I might actually be able to think today, and get stuff done.

I really do enjoy sitting in the shade with a book while my garden gently sizzles all around me, and it’s amazing to look up into an Irish sky and see it blue as cobalt. But at the same time it’s terrible to sit at your computer willing the blinking cursor to turn into words. I tried so hard to write a piece of flash fiction yesterday and no matter what I did, it just wouldn’t work. I tried prompts, of all kinds. I tried re-reading some of my old work to see if anything struck me, or if there was a half-finished idea anywhere which I could complete. I tried flipping a book to a random page and taking the first four words I saw as a sentence seed. I’d get about 200 words in, with no idea where the story was going, and then it would just fizzle out – pfft – like that.

So, basically, what I’m saying is: sorry for the lack of a blog post here yesterday. Be assured I fought a heroic battle. However, I lost – it’s bound to happen once in a while – and I was crushed flat by my own writer’s block.

Image: chicagonow.com

Image: chicagonow.com

I did manage to get some work done on ‘Web’, though, which was the day’s only saving grace. On that topic: you might remember me bleating on about wanting to change the narrative voice from third- to first-person a few days ago; well. As happens sometimes when you revisit something with a brain unaffected by heatstroke, you realise you were talking utter rubbish. I’ve decided to stick with the third-person for the time being; when I re-read what I’d done, it didn’t seem as bad as I’d remembered. I did try rewriting the first chapter in first-person, and somehow it made my protagonist seem much older and far more cynical than I want her to be. Maybe I was channelling myself (because I sure as heck felt old and cynical while I was writing it), but for whatever reason, it didn’t work as well as I’d imagined.

I think the book still needs a touch of first-person somewhere, though. I’m considering writing some sections in my antagonist’s voice, in first-person, and seeing if interspersing those with the rest of the narration would help.

Or maybe I should just finish the first draft and then see what the story needs.

Image: giphy.com

Image: giphy.com

All right, all right. Jeesh!

Anyway, I made a sketch (keeping things deliberately rough) of the rest of the book the other day – my desk is covered with Post-It notes, which seems to be my default way of working – and so I know I can finish this story. I know where I want it to go, in broad terms. I have Themes to cover and Important Things to say about sacrifice and friendship and love. I have (I think) the bones of an interesting tale with a striking protagonist and I’m writing in a genre that I’m not used to, which means it’s always interesting (if a little bit like walking a tightrope).

But one thing never changes: the work. It’s not easy getting a writhing story from your brain (where it seems like awesome squared) to paper, where it can sometimes feel flat and boring. I’ve got to give it my best shot, and there’s only one way to do that.

Quit complainin’, get my butt in the hot-seat (or, today, the pleasantly warm if a little overcast-seat), and write!

Catch y’all later. Good luck with whatever you’re working on, and may all your words be good ones.

 

Restarting

It feels strange to say this, but for the first time in ages I’m going to blog about writing.

Is that weird? I think it is. I haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing writing lately; life and other stuff has managed to entangle itself around me. That happens, of course. May was a very busy month in loads of ways, and I probably haven’t managed to decompress from that yet. I (apparently) took some time off over the past few weeks, too, during which I didn’t work on my current WiP (at the moment it’s nameless, but let’s call it ‘Web’ for now), and during which I didn’t get much time to work on any shorts or stories, either. I made a successful submission, and I’m very much looking forward to getting myself a copy of that publication when it’s ready. I wrote a non-fiction piece for a website, and I read a few novels for review.

But working on the new book? Well.

Image: flickr.com

Image: flickr.com

In the last couple of days, though, I’ve begun to remedy that. I’ve added about 4,000 new words to the total (I’m almost at 30,000 now), which involved some back-weaving and editing. The prodigious output you might remember me describing when this project began has ground right down to a crawl.

But – strangely enough – that’s okay.

I really like the idea I’m working on – perhaps not as much as I enjoyed ‘Emmeline’, but I’m not sure I’ll ever write anything I love as much as I loved that – and it deserves my best effort, of course. However, I am finally beginning to realise that I can’t expect myself to churn out words from 6,30 a.m. to 6,30 p.m. without cease, day after day, and that I have a rhythm which works best for me. Not only that but I owe it to myself to work during those times of day when my brain is kicking at its highest revolution and my energy is at its best, which is usually in the morning. So, I’ve been trying to log out of my work just after lunchtime (say, around 2 p.m.) these last few days in order to focus on other stuff, whether that be the errands that build up, peskily, like dust, or one of the magazines I’m involved with, or my various social media profiles. My days are busy, but rewarding, and even though I’m working (as distinct from ‘earning’ – hopefully that will come in time!) it doesn’t feel like it.

Starting early in the morning gives you scope to do so much with the day. I never would have imagined myself saying such a thing as a teenager…

I hate you!! Image: claireshropshall.wordpress.com

I hate you!!
Image: claireshropshall.wordpress.com

…when I spent approximately 98% of my time either in bed or screaming at people, but it really is true.

I think I might also have been putting off my work on ‘Web’ because I feared I had written myself into an insurmountable situation, and the longer I spent away from it the worse it seemed to become. My mind has a dreadful tendency to be overwrought and ‘woe is me!’ about things like this; no first draft is perfect, of course, and they all have problem areas which need fixing, but I convince myself that problems I half-remember are a thousand times worse than they, in all actuality, are. When I do eventually revisit the work I often find it’s not half as traumatic as I thought, but the challenge is getting over the fear of opening the document and actually having a look.

Image: redroom.com

Image: redroom.com

It’s important not to let this fear keep you from your words. If you don’t finish something, you can never fix it. If you don’t get the story out – even if it’s only in a grotty first draft – you can never make anything good out of it.

In any case, the insurmountable situation in ‘Web’ was tricky, all right (mainly because I felt I’d written a scene which wasn’t ‘authentic’, or which was an unrealistic reaction on my characters’ part to an event in the plot), but it wasn’t as clunky as I’d feared. I ended up largely keeping the problematic scene as it was, simply adding a little clarification to it, and now I feel it works just fine. Best of all, it’s led me to another scene, one I hadn’t imagined, which will further underline my antagonist’s methods and motivation, and also give me a chance to explore my protagonist’s sense of adventure and risk-taking, which is important.

So, sometimes these huge blocks we think are standing in our way are actually designed to get us to change course and see our work in a different light.

I have another busy day today – largely out-of-office based, unfortunately – so I’m not sure how it will affect my word count. But, as I’m realising, effective writing is about the quality of what I produce, and not hitting an arbitrary target. And, of course, tomorrow is another day, filled with just the same chances and opportunities, and plenty of space to create words in.

How is your writing going these days?