Sunday, April 29, 2018

Deliverables and milestones

Second draft calls for a second screen
(NB: that's the Productivity Commission's draft report on Low-Emissions Economy to the left, not my novel.
And yes, I get the dissonance of printing a 500 page report on low-emissions economy.)

So I finished the first draft of my location scout novel 11 days ago. “First draft” is an accurate description of the last maybe ten pages. The first ten pages are more like “thirty-seventh draft”. Everything else sits somewhere in between.

How’d it feel to reach that point? 

Well, I used to feel stink that I had all year in Dunedin to finish it and I didn't, but that pity party petered out.

There was some elation 11 days ago, but it was specific to having had a successful day’s writing.

Back in Dunedin, I had jumped ahead and written most of the final chapter, with a square-bracketed statement at the end that indicated a one-off shift in perspective that’d last a page at most. It took me months to fill in the other blank spaces and get to that last, unwritten passage, but on the morning of Thursday 19 April, I’d reached that point, but still didn't really know how to pull it off.

It was a strange ‘writing’ day for other reasons. I had to go in to my dayjob for two meetings that were two hours apart, despite it being one of my days off, and I decided to write in town before, between and after the meetings to be efficient and avoid school holiday distractions at home. When I got set up in town, I decided to do some automatic(ish) writing to lower the stakes in a brand new environment and maybe get into this new perspective for writing later in the day. But straight away the voice just clicked. I wrote two-thirds of a page and pasted it wholesale into the end of my novel. Re-reading it after my first meeting, I repeated the first three lines at the end, wrote a better transition between the old and the new, and just like that, I was done.

Only, I wasn’t’. I’m not. But I’ve reached a milestone.

After finishing the first draft, the first thing I did was go back and change the first sentence, which alluded to a scene that no longer occurred in the novel. After that, I spent two days going through all 170 notes I’d made in Evernote, from the first one in April 2015 about what I thought might just be a short story through to notes I’d made a couple days before about things to address in the next draft. Now I have a 120-row table in Excel which I'm working my way through.

It was interesting to see that it was three years, almost to the day, since I started on this path (sometimes it feels longer - there were the two years between finishing The Mannequin Makers and the idea for this novel occurring to me; sometimes shorter - I basically started afresh in late Feb 2017). However I accounted for my time, I now had a 105,000 word manuscript to show for it. 

The quantity is there, now it's a matter of making sure there's quality, too. 

I made a mistake last week with my one pure writing day (my other day off work was a public holiday spent with family). In the spirit of gearing up for a great, systematic, enriching second draft, I decided to re-read Michael Grosso’s The Man Who Could Fly, which, despite the fact I read it two years into the project, represents a kind of ur-text for my novel. The problem with re-reading this book a year later was it was the same slog it was the first time (though without as much of my own cynicism getting in the way). Whatever momentum I’d worked up with my string of 5am starts, with every session at the keyboard moving the book forward, with the small sense of accomplishment of finishing the first draft and surprising myself with a passage that clicked this late in the process… that all drained away as I slogged through the first 100 pages of Grosso’s book.

So I put a stop to that and I’m back into my text. Making it better. Or making it different and then letting time tell me if it’s better or worse.

I’m not sure if there’ll be a clear demarcation between a second and a third or a fourth draft. Between now and the end of May I’ll go through it as often as I have to, making sure character X’s motivation is consistent, the logic for twist Y is embedded in earlier moments, the chapter titles are that right mix between intriguing and meaningful, that all the references to music on the roadtrip are absolutely necessary (my wife’s main suggestion when she read the manuscript in January)… and then I’m going to let a second person (and maybe a third) read the thing.

Maybe then, to bide my time, I'll return to Grosso...

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