My friends and family keep asking me for an update on my novel. This is only natural and wonderfully supportive. But I have nothing to tell them:
“Are you still writing it? they ask.
“Of course,” I say.
“So how long until I can buy it?” they ask. Like I said, they’re really supportive.
“Well… first I’ve got to finish it. Then I’ve got to find an agent. Then-“
“So can I read what you’ve got so far?”
“No, not yet. It’s constantly changing as I edit it. It’s only at second draft.”
“What about if I just read the beginning?”
So. This is for all of you. My loyal friends and family who just want a simple answer to a simple question.
First though, remember back when you didn’t even know I was writing it? And it just seemed to come out of the blue when one day I said “I’m writing my novel and I’ve nearly finished the first draft”? (Some of you who know me best asked if I’d “dragged it back out again”, but that’s a different novel, and maybe a blog for another time).
Well, the reason you didn’t know I was writing it, is because the idea was still in its precious formation stages. Any wrong look, or word, or inflection from any of you, and the story might have died. Possibly in shame. I needed to get it down before you asked me all sorts of difficult questions like “what’s it about?”.
So, here’s how it happened, and how it’s still happening.
I started this novel in September 2014, when I (and some of you) was made redundant. I finished work for the last time, went home, poured a glass of wine, scribbled an outline, then went to the pub. I’m sure I had nothing further to drink that night.
Over the next two or three days, I stick-figured every scene onto palm cards, stuck them to A4 cardboard pages, and ended up with a storyboard like I was making a movie. Over the next seven weeks until I started working again, I wrote actual words and the story grew by thousands and thousands of them. My computer died, but I’m so paranoid about backups that I survived the worst of that. I changed jobs again and went through a training so intense I didn’t write for about twelve weeks, but I survived that too (and the training – hello to my newer friends!).
Then, in June 2015, I finished my first draft. Three months ahead of schedule. I was getting excited, so I started talking about it. I gave it a read-over (from a back-up version so I wouldn’t be tempted to write, correct and edit, because this reading needed to be done in as close to one go as possible); and made notes about where the structure was weak, the characters were shallow or inconsistent, or things didn’t flow properly, or just better ideas.
That process took two days. It took another few days (by now I’ve become a shift-worker and you know what that’s like) to then compile the over 200 separate notes into a large Word file. I had to number and prioritise them all, and duplicate them into the novel itself at the appropriate places, or I would have been lost and confused.
Since June 2015, I’ve been working through these notes. The beginning of my story has changed a ridiculous number of times (the first 30 or so pages need to be my very best – more on that in another post). As time goes on, it of course changes less and less, but it still changes. Just yesterday I thought of something on page ten I need to fix – it only managed to bubble up from my sub-conscious while I was on a long drive.
I now have a 100,000 word novel that is really coming together. I have second-drafted it to about word 86,000. Once that’s done… whew, then it’s ready.
What? It’s not? Oh of course: another read-over for structure, consistency and depth. More notes. More adjustments…
“So how’s all this relevant?” you ask. “I don’t care if it changes, I just want to see what you’ve got so far.” Well, have you ever finished a book and thought “Wow. How did she make all that happen? How did she think of that so early on, and set the scene, and plant that seed, and-“
Well, maybe she didn’t do all that straight away. Maybe it was a love story before it became a crime novel. Maybe she thought her first draft was too shallow, the second inconsistent. Maybe by her third or fourth draft she changed the beginning to plant those seeds and set those scenes. Maybe it was her agent who gave her the seed during his read.
If you read what I have now, you may see one of those ideas still in its infancy. It might still be forming and growing and sound out of place. My characters need time to get used to it without it accidentally being killed off by one of those looks or inflections I mentioned.
So that’s why, loyal friends and family, I have no update. There is no tangible result I can share with you today, or tomorrow. Sometimes my word count goes up, sometimes it goes down. But yes, I’m still working on it. I had previously hoped to get the second draft done by the end of June 2016, now I hope to have the third draft done by then instead.
How many drafts? you ask. As many as it takes.
Oh and during all this time, I’ve been learning about what comes next. How do I find an agent? What other information do I need? Is there anything else I need to do now? Where can I get help?
And all of that is for another blog.