Saturday, 9 May 2015

How Sorting Out My Plot is a lot like Sorting Out My Other Plot

Way back in 2014 I talked about how I'd managed to bag meself an allotment plot, for the purpose of growing my own fruit and veg in the future instead of bothering the likes of Tesco and co. Not that it was in any fit state for that at the time; the plot I'd inherited hadn't been touched in two years, and as a result looked like part of the set for Jurassic Park (except minus the dinosaurs. At least, I assumed there weren't any - but it was hard to tell what might've been lurking in there...) Lotta work to be done before I could get it even close to cultivatable (is that a word? 'Tis now.)

Fast-forward about six months through a cold and soggy winter, and that plot has now had a serious shave and a haircut. I have three patches I've worked over enough to actually have some seeds of the vegetable kind planted in them (and *fingers crossed* growing as we speak) and another five big brown squares that I'm still working on, but should be able to bring up to standard ready for my baby seedlings I'm currently nursing indoors on every available windowsill. Happy days!

But lordy, it's hard work. This is good though, especially - surprisingly - for my writing. Going to the allotment and doing some heavy-duty digging, lifting and shifting for an hour or so before I sit down to write seems to have improved my ability to focus - not to mention dramatically improved my ability to stay awake at my keyboard without the aid of medicinal chocolate and copious amounts of tea and coffee. Heck, if I carry on like this I might even end up looking like Kim Kardashian! (Well, okay then, maybe her mother... hang on, that's Kris Jenner - oh heck no, scratch that...)

But anyway, back to the important improvements. Far from getting less writing done and not meeting my weekly targets for hours and wordcounts, as I'd feared might happen once I started tackling my allotment in earnest, I've actually been exceeding them. I haven't needed twenty-minute 'top-up' naps during the day anymore. And I can go to sleep at night and only wake up about once or twice during that night, as opposed to every hour-and-a-half as had been the norm for me for god knows how long. I'm even having actual dreams again - and this time not the kind I don't remember but still wake me up with a pounding heart and the vague feeling I might have been crying. I'm talking proper dreams, with plots and characters and everything.

And maybe as a result of all this, I'm feeling a lot more positive about my writing - and my progress with Redemption. And as I've been knee-deep in soil and garden tools, I've noticed that some of the things I'm having to do to get my land in shape are very similar to things I'm doing to get my novel in shape too.

A large part of a second draft involves working out what you really meant to say in your first draft. The ideas are... kind of there, but it's as if you enlisted the help of some very drunk person to speak on your behalf, who only half read the memo and is really more interested in getting back to the bar and necking some tequila slammers. So after a period of leaving your first draft to mature you go back to it and you start the process of digging - just like I've been doing with my allotment. And just like in my allotment, this has meant digging my fork in really deep and turning everything over, to expose what's underneath that surface layer. You find a lot of surprises that way - both good and bad.

The good ones in my allotment have been worms and centipedes (good for the soil) and plants already there that I can still harvest (a massive clutch of rhubarb that'll be ready in a couple of weeks.) In my novel, it's been new depths to characters that I didn't notice before, extra nuggets of setting I can add in from further research I've done and places where I can strengthen and polish the themes. Bad things? Well, in my allotment it's been weeds that were sown by the devil himself - bindweed, thistles and couch grass, all with mahoosive roots that go down so far they have an Australian accent by the time you get to the bottom of them. In my novel it's weeds of a different kind; repeated words and phrases, using words that look different but are basically saying the same thing again that I just said (see what I did there?) And not forgetting, in my desperate bid to Show Not Tell, so many gestures and movements and - oh god! - soooo much looking, staring and turning to - that in some scenes my poor old characters read like Thunderbirds puppets on crack.

In both cases, it's been tough and dirty work, but worth the effort. And... it's been fun too. So I shall continue with both projects in tandem. With any luck, I shall eventually end up with both a completed novel worthy of publishing and dinner.

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