Saturday, 2 August 2014

How My New Allotment is a Lot Like Draft One of My Novel

Yesterday I finally become the proud owner (well - 'leaser' anyway) of an allotment - a lovely patch of land about forty feet by twenty feet for the purpose of growing stuff to eat.

I'd been on a waiting list for a while, so when this came up I jumped at it. If I hadn't, my eight-year-old son would probably have jumped on my behalf, since he's been panting to have his own little patch to grow things ever since our next door neighbours got their allotment plot. Needless to say, he is beside himself with an excitement which hasn't been dulled in the slightest by the current state of our newly-acquired plot. Because... yeah. Ready-to-plant it aint. Not by a long shot.

Its previous owner was a man in his eighties, who gradually stopped tending to it because it just became too much for him. So when we took it over yesterday afternoon it hadn't seen any action for at least two years. As a result, any soil there is hidden under a thick carpet of knee-high grass, ivy and a particularly virulent form of thistle - not to mention long-discarded bags of fertiliser, bits of wood and wire netting and other assorted rubbish scattered all over the place. So yeah, something of an unholy mess that's gonna need a lot of clearing up, digging up and tearing out unwanted stuff before I can start putting in the things I want to grow and nurture.

And it struck me that my first draft of w-i-p The Renegades looked a lot like that too, when I first came back to it after a six-week 'fermentation period.'

In both cases I think I went through the same emotions. I started off  by staring at it and going "Whoa... that's a whole lotta work to do right there." I definitely doubted my stamina and determination to commit to the task. My track record in the past hadn't been that great, particularly with novels; I'd put in the hard work for a bit, but as my enthusiasm trailed off so did the hours I put into it, until it got to none at all. But that was with even getting a draft one finished, and this time I'd done that - I'd finally got to the stage where I had a completed draft to work on. I finally proved to myself that I can do it after all - I can commit when I feel something's worth the effort. The Renegades is worth the effort, even if it ultimately never gets published - I'll still have learned so much about how to write a novel from it, which I can use towards writing more and better ones in the future. And this allotment will be worth it too.

So yesterday, within minutes of acquiring my new plot of land, I decided to approach it the way I approached my other plot - the one I'm currently shaping into Draft Two of The Renegades.

Golden Rule Number One: start small. I can't fix everything right away, and trying to make the whole thing look better overall in just one pass is just too big a task and will ultimately leave me feeling like I've barely made a dent in terms of progress. So I set to work on clearing just a small section of the plot, a six-foot-square corner overgrown with thistles and trailing ivy. I ripped them all out, broke up the soil underneath and dug it over, so that I had a nice, bare patch of ground to plant things in. Okay, it might only be six foot square patch, but it's the best patch, and when I look at the whole plot overall it's very obvious that I've done something to improve it. Which makes me think "hmm, yeah, I can do this. A bit at a time, in regular little chunks, and I can do all of this."

I've reached the halfway point in draft two of The Renegades so far - and that too, was done in regular little chunks each day. Of course I'll still need to go back over them and tighten them further - but, like my little patch of earth, they already look miles better than the draft one sludge pond they emerged from. And that spurs me on to keep going, in regular little chunks at a time.

I'll be the first to admit I'm no gym bunny, so after yesterday's efforts in my allotment I was fully expecting to wake up this morning feeling like I'd fallen out of a first-floor window. But actually it's... not bad. The only place I ache is, somewhat weirdly, my hands, from tearing all those stubborn thistles up (a writer who's fingers are out of shape - how ironic is that?) And I probably felt the same way the morning after my first time at the coalface with draft two as well.

Each morning, before beginning my writing session, I've also been reading a metric tonne of books about novel writing and plotting and outlining and dialogue and show don't tell... Because if I'm gonna do this thing - and I am gonna do this thing - I'm darn well gonna do it armed with every tidbit of knowledge and advice I can get my hands on. So now I'm planning my library trips to get books about growing fruit and veg, not to mention trips to garden centres to ogle all those lovely seeds and gardener's charts and all the other fancy-pants things that now look like I desperately need them (I probably don't - a bit like I don't really need another notebook divided into six sections, or another set of highlighters that - oh look! Can be hung on a keyring this time..!)

And now I must leave you - I have an allotment to tend to. And my eight-year-old son has already planted it all out in his head and is nagging my ears off to make it a reality - by the end of today, if possible. Hmm... looks like not everyone can see the benefits of 'regular little chunks...'

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