Saturday, 17 October 2015

Why the Drafts Don't Get Easier As You Go Along

As I said in a previous post, I recently spent a week in hospital with cellulitis and blood poisoning, which temporarily nixed any opportunities for productive work on Redemption.

That was about a month ago now, and, yeah, I have been working on it again since then. But progress has been slow. This is Draft Three of the story now, and even though I've got the whole plot sorted out and properly hanging together thanks to the detailed outline I finally managed to draw up (after a draft one of pantsing and then a draft two of... well, basically slightly more organised pantsing) I'm not exactly banging out the word-count like a monkey on Sunny D.

This has been confusing for me. Surely, now that I've got a proper, scene-by-scene breakdown to work to, the words should come thicker and faster, right? I mean, the hard part - the planning and plotting - has already been done, and all that's left is putting the meat on the fully-functioning skeleton. So why did I just spend nearly fifteen minutes swapping between typing 'as he ran past' and 'and ran past' because I couldn't decide which sounded better? Why is writing this starting to feel like trying to explain quantum string theory to my mum after I've drunk several Jaegerbombs?

I'm pretty sure it's not because the uber-doses of antibiotics I've had to take in the past month have eaten large chunks of my brain away and now I'm an imbecile. Could it be my period of AWOL from Redemption has left me feeling distanced from it? Maybe... but again, my outline should help me get over that hurdle. It surely couldn't be because I've fallen out of love with the story and I'm secretly not that into writing it any more, could it? Nope, that definitely isn't true; thanks again to my proper, working outline, I'm probably more pumped about the story now than I've ever been.

So what the heck's going on then?

I asked several writer friends about this - authors who are further down the novel-writing path than I am - and it seems this is actually normal. The most organised outline in the history of outlining can tell you everything you need to say to tell your story - but it can't tell you how you're going to say it.  And since the point of each successive draft is for it to be better than the ones before... the pressure's on before you even commit fingers to keyboard, whether you're consciously aware of it or not.

Deep down, I know this third draft can't suck at the same level as my first and second ones sucked; I've got to up my game or I'm just wasting my time. So I'm reviewing each sentence as I write it, checking it for quality against the blueprints of my previous drafts. After all, I don't want to repeat the same mistakes...

But then I risk creating whole new ways to doof this third draft up - as a result of trying too hard to avoid those previous mistakes. Annnd maybe I'm thinking about that a little too much as well. I know my characters way better now than I did in my previous drafts, and... okay, maybe I've started to care about them enough to want to make sure I don't misrepresent them - yep, even the villains of the piece. Things matter more now; getting it right matters more. Which means the fear of getting it wrong looms that much bigger as well.

That's why, as my author friends confirmed, the drafts get harder each time, instead of easier.

And since things that get harder need more work and take longer... it all adds up to the prospect of 'less fun.' But that's the cold, harsh truth of it; writing a novel isn't always fun. There are times - sometimes long, lonely times - when it totally sucks, and every session in front of the computer feels like eye surgery without an anaesthetic. And that's when the writer has to get their Inner Masochist on and knuckle down, no matter how much they don't feel like doing it.

For my part, I want to complete Redemption to a standard good enough to publish, however long that takes me. Heck, it's gone past that; I need to do it (and will do it) before I can write any other novel ever. A huge part of any writer's determination to complete a novel comes from believing in the story they're writing, and I do believe in Redemption (even in those dark moments when I'm utterly convinced that I'll never be a good enough writer and I'm just deluding myself that I have any talent at all...)

When you love your novel and believe in it, it can feel like you're in one of those toxic relationships where the object of your affection treats you with disdain but you keep on giving them chances. Non-writers will look at you with pity and shake their heads, wondering why you put yourself through this when you could just save yourself the heartache and move on - but you keep going, because you know in your heart that you're meant to be together and it'll all work out in the end. We're a pretty bonkers lot like that.

So let's embrace the Hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would be doing it. Yes, I know when it comes to writing novels it sometimes seems like everyone is doing it, but honestly, for every ten people that start writing one, only one or two will actually finish it. Whatever it takes to motivate; the allure of potential fame and fortune, the thrill of seeing your work 'out there' for others to read - or even the promise of a mountain of chocolate as a reward for getting the job done. (Whaddya mean, you haven't done that? Doesn't everybody do that?)

What do you tell yourself to help you keep on trucking when the going gets tough?

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