On Finishing a First Draft

It is done. I have typed the last word, finished the last scene, put my (relatively) new characters to bed. In celebration of this, I wanted to share some piece that I figured someone would have written about how great it was to have accomplished this. Alas, I was wrong. All of the posts I found revolved around what comes next. Where to go next, how to edit, all of that stuff that I was really hoping not to think about for a few weeks. I can understand the need to focus on improvement, but there should be something about the simple achievement of getting this far. So I thought I’d write one myself.

It’s the second novel I’ve written. A bit weird, compared to the first. While writing the first one, I had scheduled meetings with my tutor, a deadline for a certain number of words, I had to hand in the plot structure and have it assessed, all of that stuff. I wrote it on a Masters course at City University. Which was amazing. It gave me the structure and guidance I needed to make it through writing my first novel. It also allowed me to get over a lot of the pitfalls that I feel I would have had if I’d just gone ahead and written one. Especially seeing as, for the first one, I wrote a dual narrative. Who thought that was a good idea for a first novel?! Juggling two plots and voices, as well as tinkering between the two to create an interwoven narrative was not an easy task. This one, by comparison, is a more straightforward first-person story, which has been a little easier. It’s also been quite freeing. Away from the need to have anyone peruse my work, I’ve allowed myself to go wherever I wanted to with it. Like my imagination’s been let out for once.

And, you know what, other writers, it is easier. Every time we had a visiting author, we asked that hopeful question – does it get easier? Of course we did, we were all at the point where we thought every sentence we wrote was utter garbage and clearly we were never going to finish anything decent anyway. Every time, without fail, they all said that, no, of course not, writing a book was always hard. Needless to say, this did little to boost our morale.

I beg to differ. Of course I’ve only written a first draft, and it’s going to be a hell of a lot of work, but it is still easier. If nothing else, having got to the end of an enormous piece of writing once, at least I know I can actually do it. That in itself makes the process less arduous. Not only that, you’ve already tripped yourself up over your own mistakes and failures for nigh on two (creeping towards three) years. So of course it’s not as hard. Perhaps as you write more it’s easy to forget that first one, the one that got you out of the blocks. Or maybe when you get so absorbed in your new project and it’s hard going it fools you into thinking that you are going through the same process again. Of course you are, to a certain extent, but experience changes you, and pretending otherwise just makes you sound pretentious.

What also doesn’t help, is all of the, ‘oh so-and-so wrote a book in three months/two weeks/a minute,’ talk. Of course, it makes for a more exciting, press release, but it’s also bollocks. What they mean is, they finished the first draft in a ridiculously short amount of time. After that, it would have gone through a huge number of edits, rewriting, proof reading, making the magical process not quite as magical, but a little more achievable for us mere mortals. Also, most people have to do other jobs, which makes it take a little longer! So yes, it took me 9 months. I still think that’s not bad.

But here I am, veering off the point. what I wanted to say is – it feels great. Under my own steam, with very little feedback, I have finished a story that I first had the idea for about a year ago. I researched it, I talked through my ideas with people, created a story, characters who I now feel are real people, and I got to the end. It’s not nearly often enough that we are told to just sit back and give ourselves a little pat on the back for a job well done. So the same goes for you too. Nice one, whatever it is you’re feeling proud of today.

In a world where we constantly seek for the next ‘target’ or ‘goal,’ let’s sit back and just enjoy the pleasure of having achieved something. Doesn’t that feel good?

Starting to Succeed

The very fact of this title was difficult to write. Acknowledging any form of success seems boastful, inappropriate. It’s a bit like singing. If you say you play the violin, the piano, it’s ok somehow, because the hours of practice are deemed part of it, you are a skilled technician, as well as an accomplished musician. Say you sing, and it’s a boast, a singling out. I am better than you because I can sing. You can substitute ‘writing’ for that. Probably because everyone (pretty much) can do it. Perhaps an email, a witty Tweet, whatever it is, we’ve all put pen to paper. So I didn’t want to call this post ‘success,’ because it sounded too presumptuous.

This summer I won a short story competition. It was fabulous. A cheque came in the post, a card, a beautiful picture of a waterfall; evidence that someone thought my writing was good. So far the money has had to go on bills, rather than the proper writing chair I promised myself, but this is what happens when you cut your hours in order to finish your first novel and get your writing out to a public in whatever way you can. But there it is, my name, next to the words ‘first prize.’

The second most thrilling bit was when they posted the judge’s comments on their website. Here, for the first time, someone who wasn’t my mother/friend/on my course saying something positive about my writing. Apparently I have ‘evocative poetic resonance.’ To be discussed in this abstract way, from someone I have never met, was a very special experience.

It feels like a start. A budding of something, no matter how small, that may yet flower into something bigger. And there are so many places to do it. Short story competitions (Try Creative Writing Ink for a huge list of those), Scriggler, Patreon (a very modern method of patronage), magazines, blogs, so many ways to take something you have created and share it with someone, anyone, who might find a spark of something hiding between your words. If you don’t do it, who will? Get your stuff out there, it’s worth it, trust me.

If you fancy a read of my story, it’s here.