Week 97

I was going to be all, yay plain sailing, I'm outta the woods, everything feels like it's falling into place, because - for a few days - it was. It did feel like that. The shaky first half, during which I was constantly wondering if I was even telling the right story, let alone telling it well, was finally paying dividends. I was almost at my goal of 80,000 words (that's not the entire draft, mind, just what I thought I could achieve in the 12 weeks I was out here), and after flexing its muscle every day for two solid months, writing itself was coming more easily, rather than scrape my way towards my daily word count goal I was swooping past it in a matter of hours. I am already thinking about the next draft; what needs to be taken away, and added to, so that it starts to take shape and all the joints fuse. It's in there, in the rough mess of the current draft, like a Russian doll. I even managed to write up a short synopsis, just a paragraph, but that's the first time I've been able to do it in almost two years. I'm three quarters in, and, despite a few changes, it roughly follows the plan I devised before coming out here and is about to get to the good bit (ie the end), when it all wraps up and makes total sense.


Then I woke up today and it was all terrible. Sigh.

Word count this week: 11,170 Second draft so far: 78,284 First draft: 128,661

Week 96

As expected, trailing last week's notes with the phrase "I give up" brought three times the amount of normal traffic to this blog, so I'm going to take that as a barometer of public opinion and be brief. Week 96 already, need to finish this draft by 100, will she make it? Oh-whoa. < SUSPENSE

So. Here we go.


This week I finally got halfway through the story (not the halfway mark of my wordcount, mind - a fair bit of that has been shunted to later in the book) and decided to write the rest in a different mode. There are at least two stories going on in my book: one in the past, one in the present. The one in the present has caused me the most trouble by far: first, making it powerful enough when the initial interest in this book for me resides in the past story (and, indeed, the first draft was mostly just that), second, giving it a plot of its own, and now, third, how it is being told.

So far I have told the present story in just that, the present. I do this, I do that. The result has been surprisingly impressionistic; I love writers such as Woolf and Faulker and Morrison, but I did not expect my writing would come out trying to emulate them and the "stream of consciousness" style. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with it, either.

This week I wrote an intro I was really pleased with. Just a few paragraphs, but it not only zipped up my first chapter, it changed how I thought about my main character too. I've been struggling with making her likeable, and this may be the way. It gives her way more control over the narrative than a mere imprint of her thoughts does. It's a lot more fun too.

So for the second half I'm going to try and write like that: in the past tense (whoa) and more deliberately manipulative. Tell a bit more, and show a bit less, and create the sort of gaps in the narrative that means it doesn't take hold entirely. The only complication is that the next bit is where the story all goes wrong, and starts to spiral. She loses control of her situation, and that should affect her narrative too, which means, ironically, a more impressionistic style is required. I need to rewrite the preceding narrative in that case; not the whole thing, just the narrative, the style with which it is told and the way in which it all hangs together.

Now that I know it needs changing, the temptation to rewrite from the start is strong. I'm trying to push forward and keep to my goal of writing a full second draft. I hoped this one would be inches away from being readable, but it'll need another quick redraft to smooth out these kind of irregularities before anyone can do that.

Word count this week: 9,717 Second draft: 67,114 First draft: 128,661


Week 94

In the middle of the swamp; this week I passed the putative halfway point. 94

I say putative, as I expected the final word count of this draft to be roughly 100,000, but every day it gets longer, and concluding scenes get further and further away. Word count is rarely a useful barometer for your story - sometimes I hit a word length target, but am still way behind on where my character should be.

In the middle of the swamp I can see as far back as I can forward. The story to come is exciting still, I think it will work, I think I have something. The story written so far needs work, but there's something there. Where I am right now feels the least stable. I could go in any direction. All those potential ideas and brilliant moments of thematic significance and plot twists turn like putty in my hands into, well, clay.

There is vast disappointment at the heart of anything creative: turning something imagined into something real, with all its flaws and inadequacies, is inevitably disheartening. If I were feeling pretentious (guess what - I am), I'd say it was an intimation of death. THERE I SAID IT.

You have to keep working it, throwing the pot until it resembles the shape you want.

Okay, that's it; I'm out of pottery metaphors.

The whole process makes me think more and more about the question of the author's control on a story, and the debate about interactive fiction. I wrote about this once before. Now that I am trying to write something, I am no longer just a reader, and I find my whole way of reading has changed, maybe forever, maybe just while I am in the middle of a story myself (I hope it's the latter). Writing has given me an insight I don't feel I had when I wrote that blog post, and definitely didn't way back when I was 20 and encountered the idea that the author is "dead" for the first time at university ('way back'? let's just say 'back', shall we?).

In my mind, as I write, I am aware of a vast potential story. It includes every inference, every thought I have ever had about my book and every detail that led up to every event, and makes every possible statement about my theme. It covers the back stories of all my characters. It includes every bit of dialogue and every sentence that wakes me up in the middle of the night, however terrible. It is huge.

While writing, especially now as the story progresses beyond the mid-point and I have a Janus-like view of it, behind and in front of me, it becomes increasingly overwhelming. But I can only write one narrative, one angle on that story, whether it's a particular character's viewpoint or told from a particular point in time. That one narrative can have echoes of the wider story, sub-plots, diversions and dead ends (in particular in my favourite form of storytelling, the novel), but for the sake of the reader and the world's trees it has to be relatively succinct. Art and the a reader's enjoyment demands that it has shape, too.

So at any one point, as a writer, you are writing the narrative you think should be told, carving your way through a morass of ideas, picking scenes and dropping others, and choosing one narrative over a multitude of others. And at the stage I'm at, there is a nagging sense that you could be (maybe should be) writing another version of this story.

Word count this week: 8,175 Second draft: 54,100 First draft: 128,661

Week 93

Major wobble at the start of the week. By Monday lunchtime I had decided to bin the whole 35,000 words I'd written thus far as it was all rubbish, and I'd scribbled a back-of-the-fag-packet version I should have been pursuing instead. 93

Confidence in my writing expands and disintegrates with the regular irregularity of a uterine wall. Is it the moon? Is it my mood at the time? Is it booze? Is it the actual quality of what I am writing? Nothing seems to correlate.

Current complaints: it's a patchwork, a bodge-job, too complex, not so much a "ferment of ideas" as a muddle. It's obvious, too.

The latter is an interesting one: I have been writing this book, in one form or another, for almost two years. Everything about it seems obvious: the setting, certain turns of phrase that have stayed with me through the drafts, certain scenes or character responses feel right, and then the thought occurs, do they feel 'right' because I've heard them used before? Are they cliched? And after so much thinking and planning, either in the forefront of my mind, or at the back of it, a dull throb, it feels as if I am writing out a story that is finished, albeit in my head. The very act of writing it has become telling something I've 'heard' before.

The writing itself feels obvious, too. When I look back at it, they are not words over which I can cast my eyes objectively. They are words that I wrote, just now, or yesterday, or last week, so recently that I remember what I had just eaten, where I was sitting and that I thought they were good, or bad, or needed filling out, or whatever. The context is galling, distracting. I am too much in the words. I suppose this is why people say you must put work to one side for a few months before reading it back and starting the edit.

What's more, certain words stick to others. It is a constant battle to avoid using the obvious ones, but what is language if not a common currency?Curiosity is either sheer, morbid or naked. It isn't dark, or full-figured. Tears brim, prick and start but they shouldn't flood or ooze, unless there's something medically wrong. And eyes don't rock from side to side, they roll.

Who knows what cliches await me when I reread this draft. I pushed on this week, despite wanting to throw the whole lot in a bin.

A couple of steps away from my computer and a few well-placed calls made me think it wasn't completely unsalvageable, then I read this post about the so-called '30,000-word doldrums' (I was at that point, approximately), and by Tuesday I was back to the grindstone, doing whatever it is people do to grindstones, which apparently involves putting their noses to it, which I can't imagine because I'm not entirely sure what a 'grindstone' is anyway.

Okay, I looked it up. It's one of these. Let's carry on shall we.

Word count this week: 12,016 Second draft: 45,925 First draft: 128,661

Week 92

92 I may not be doing NaNoWriMo, but I still have a word count aim: 1,000 a day. Sometimes I hit it no problem, sometimes I really struggle, and sometimes I cut more than I write and don't quite manage it. I don't want to make the mistake of chasing words rather than a story - some days I find myself checking my word count every few words - so I don't take it too seriously, but, like NaNoWriMo, it's a useful prop and motivator.

And this week I finished Part One, the first of three! Woohoo! A couple of days off target, as it's too long, but there are some scenes I think would do better later in the book, so I won't have to cut, just delay them.

While planning I split the book into three parts. I'm not sure if they will remain, but they helped me to plan key points in the narrative, not to mention how splitting up a 100,000-word document into three makes things feel, you know, manageable and a little less daunting. Chances are when this draft is done, I can remove the Parts structure like Jenga pieces (and hope the whole thing doesn't fall down).

This draft is... not perfect. It needs straightening out, cutting back and reordering, but, unlike the first draft, I feel the components are there. They need to be expanded on and explained, they need improving and rewriting, but they are there.

Word count this week: 7,008 Second draft: 33,909 First draft: 128,661

Week 91

This week has been a lesson in killing babies. Not literally of course (aHAHAHAHAHA), but in this sense:

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.

- William Faulkner (though some say it was Mark Twain - make your mind up, some!)

Or, as Stephen King puts it:

kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings

The idea is that if there's a part of your writing that you're attached to and the idea of editing it is hard... cut it loose. It is likely in the way somehow.

Lancs Cycleway 91

My first draft is a rag bag of ideas, but, it turns out, some of them aren't half-bad. Not always an entire paragraph, not always an entire sentence even, but sometimes there's something I look back on that's not part of the plan for the secodn draft but too good to ignore.

So copy, paste: and voila. An agonising day of trying to force it into my narrative.

After doing this a couple of times I realised I have to cut my first draft loose. I'll look back on it, but not just yet; first I need to get this draft coherently written and in one piece. Then the transplants can begin.

Word count this week: 9,823 Second draft: 26,901 First draft: 128,661