Books, On Writing

writing a first draft

It started because I’m as excellent at remembering birthdays as I am at maths.

(I am terrible at maths.)

Recently, I wrote the words ‘The End’ to Project If. I’ve been basking in the weight of ‘I must get this story told’ finally – FINALLY – rolling off my shoulders.

Sure, there’s so much more to do but for right now, the project is marinating and my mind is resting, relieved from the burden of a story made corporeal.

Here’s how I did it …

THE ‘I HAVE A REASON FOR WRITING THIS’ STAGE

There’s nothing quite like a big birthday coming up to make you panic. My dad was days away from his birthday, and I was in a different country. Now, I’m terrible at remembering birthdays and presents on a good day. I was aware of his birthday approaching, as I was aware of the Pyramids of Gaza – they and it existed, but it never troubled my mind.

Until it did. And then I realised that the only proper and meaningful gift I could give my parent was … a book. I mean, obviously.

True, he never has much time for leisure, and true, there are other things he’d probably rather do in that leisure time but dang it, it would be a meaningful gift (to me) and I couldn’t think of anything else befitting such an auspicious occasion.

It was decided then – I would inflict graciously pen an exciting adventure novel for my stunningly grateful parent.

THE PLANNING STAGE (REALLY THESE ARE ALL VERY IMAGINATIVELY TITLED)

I went to the local print shop – braving the weather conditions and nipping in before my classes started – and loaded up with lots of stationary. There’s nothing as wonderful as a good, honest pack of post-it notes. There’s something delicious about it. Something that promises of infinite possibilities.

First of all, I did a brain storm – I wrote elements I wanted in the story on post-it notes and slapped them onto the wall. And then the monster was born – an entire wall was covered. (Okay, so it wasn’t the entire wall!) Characters had a post-it note cluster, there was a time line divided into three acts, what the city would look like and how the plot was go – OBVIOUSLY there would be no plot holes. There was NO ROOM FOR ERROR AT ALL.

And then I transferred them from the wall and onto A4 sheets of paper which glamorously represented chapters.

And then, using FocusWriter set to ComicSans font (honest to goodness, any pompous notions of I’m writing the next big thing are effectively knocked out by that font. It’s aces. You can just concentrate on the story because it’s not going to be worse than ComicSans. I believe I have Hayden to thank for these tips.) I typed the fateful first words that are probably going to be completely butchered in the next month:

He didn’t think he’d ever betray his country.

PROJECT IF – PAGE ONE, PARAGRAPH ONE, FIRST SENTENCE. OBVIOUSLY.

THE TRUDGING STAGE (ONE MUST)

I wrote the beginnings of Project If whilst I was teaching in Moldova. I’d take up the A4 Chapter that I was working on and write the chapter from there – side note, I’m terrible at planning reasonable length chapters. They’d end up being 3,000 to 4,000 to 5,000 words and that’s a little too long for me, personally. But still.

I was teaching and planning lessons and marking papers and all that sort of thing, but I wrote and that was wonderful.

And then I came home and everything changed. Paradoxically, it seems that it’s when I have the most time for writing, I write the least. I had a few weeks in which I had nothing pressing to do – except for writing. And I wrote barely anything.

My brain is very contrary; when I started working full time AND ESTABLISHED A ROUTINE suddenly, I was writing a lot more and word count soared. It wasn’t record breaking; I wasn’t getting down 10,000 words a day, or a week … but words were happening.

And so, slowly, the word count creeped up. Day by day. Sometimes I did timed sprints. Sometimes I simply thundered as loudly as I walk on the keyboard. Occasionally, the plot would veer off into unthought of grounds, but you have to roll with it and fill the plot holes up later.

Being consistently creative, for me, requires a routine. And so I’ve found a sort of groove. And yes, it can mean that one moment I’m writing a gory scene in my lunch hour and the next, I’m having a pleasant conversation with a colleague. But hey – variety is the spice of life and what they don’t know won’t put them off their lunch.

THE FINISHING STAGE (LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. BOOKS CAN BE FINISHED)

I stalled. I couldn’t help it. Stage fright whisked me into a land of worrisome panic. I delayed it day after day until I realised that I just had to do it. This wasn’t that ’30 day until you get killer abs’ app that I refused to complete on day 29 on the grounds that 1) I had put weight on and 2) no abs had happened.

I had to complete it. So I sat down at my desk, rewrote a section of the final chapter that hadn’t worked out too well, added a few more scenes and typed THE END. It wasn’t quite as speedy as it sounds, but it happened.

Typing ‘The End’ was exhilarating – there’s much further to go on a first draft, at least there is for me, but the story in its crudest, most basic form has been told. It’s all about rewriting and editing it and trying to make it look like I totally meant for that to happen. Yep. Totally.

THE EDITING STAGE (PANIC. JUST … PANIC A LOT AND THEN ROLL YOUR SLEEVES UP AND DO IT)

I’m about to plunge into this – by the time this has been posted, perhaps I will have already done so. It’s going to take a while, I suspect. I’ve planned out my list of edits – and there are five rounds to do in the second draft and just oh this is going to be so time consuming kill me now I mean don’t I’m joking but it’s going to be PAINFUL.

I’ve had a glorious week researching and planning out my next novel – Project Unicorn Poop is undergoing an overhaul. There’s only been one post-it note used. You need a large, empty wall for the Post-It Note plotting method, and I don’t quite have that any more. But another novel is happening because … well, I simply must.

And though it’s going to be a trifle tricky trying to edit one book and write the first draft of a second at the same time but … I’m going to do it. (Probably with total success. *ah-HEM*)

There’s so many stories to tell, you see.