Last year I wrote a whole second draft of my novel. Yay me, right? Toot toot. Then I printed it out, all 397 pages, looked at it lovingly for a few hours and put it in a drawer.
Didn't read it. Didn't touch it. For six months.
That break came to an end a few weeks ago, and I started work on it again. It had never left my mind fully, and I was keen to get back to it, but first things first: I had to read the second draft.
Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Writing a book must mean you want it to be read. "Imagine your reader", all of those writing guides say. The trouble is, I hadn't. I had written the draft in a white heat, clocking up 1000+ words a day for three months. Some passage were so hard to write, the last thing on my mind was how they might be read. I couldn't bear to look back even a few sentences, in case yesterday's work was not all I thought it had cracked up to be.
By the end of writing it a few things had become apparent: 1) my story wasn't working, 2) my main character wasn't working, and 3) I sure love pizza flavour Cheetos.
Everyone writes differently, and I took the tack to write as fast as I could, get it down, and don't look back. You can always fix later.
So when it came to that fixing, I found myself searching for other things to do. It's always hard to get back into the discipline of writing, and is even harder after some time away. For a few days at least just sitting at your desk for an unbroken hour is an achievement, even if you did nothing but google cat gifs (ahem). The sunny weather didn't help, and nor did that massive wodge of paper, lying there like that, with a title that may as well have been '2.5 years of your life'.
During that six-month break I had written a few short stories, and always reached the same impasse: I didn't want to read what I'd written. The longer I didn't read, the longer it was possible it was good.
If I read it that possibility went out the window.
Eventually I ran out of rooms to tidy, pictures to put up and cutlery to polish. There was nothing else for it: I sat down and read the second draft.
- The story is wrong (I knew this before I'd even finished);
- There's too much going on, too much genuflection at significance and too many references, and not enough space left to really get to grips with any one scene or idea (this is related, but a little more complicated, than the old adage "show, don't tell");
- Too much interiority - scenes happened in my main character's head, and those between 2+ people were rare and explosive;
- It's way too complex. I need to simplify the story.
The latter is the scariest of all, for reasons I'll get into in another post. In the mean time, there are some positives:
- The writing is okay - I can write a sentence (that's the least of my problems, and the easiest bit);
- the ideas are good - sometimes I underlined what was a throwaway sentence, with the instruction to expand it into a whole scene or chapter; and
- the characterisation - where possible - is good. I say possible, as the story hampers this quite a lot - I put too much emphasis on plot here. But some of those genuflections work well here, and illuminate character suddenly and subtly.
The really thrilling thing was reading it with some objectivity. Some of the passages I couldn't even remember writing. After three months getting bogged down at sentence level until I could no longer tell what was working and what wasn't, it was really encouraging to read stuff and to see so clearly what works and what doesn't.
It changed my plans for the third draft, and sent me back to the drawing board. I've started again, comparing characters and focusing the plot, until I work up the outline of a story.
And so, on to Draft Three...