Monday, 28 November 2016

How I finished the first draft of my novel

Yup, I finally finished the first draft. Here it is, emerging from the printer yesterday.

Note that you can't actually see the pages, and that's no accident - they're not ready for anyone to read yet. Not even me: I'm finding it hard to resist, but I've sworn to myself to put the script aside until after Christmas. By January I hope I'll come to it with less love and understanding, and can be as brutal as I need to be for the second draft.

It feels like I started this book a long, long time ago - possibly because I started thinking about it years before I wrote a word.

Then, over a year or two, I wrote a whole load of words that I deleted straight away. I couldn't work out where my story was going or who would tell it.

So in September 2015, I booted myself into action on the 12-week online course at the Unthank School. This was intense - especially as I was working pretty flat out at the time - but I committed to writing something every day for those twelve weeks, and I did. Sometimes I only managed 20 minutes while the potatoes boiled for dinner, but I always wrote. I mapped out my plot, got to know my main characters, wrote 5,000 words, rewrote them completely, in a new voice and from a new point of view, and by the end of December I had over 15,000 words.

Maybe I'm a wimp, but after Christmas, I collapsed a little bit. I confess I didn't have the steam to keep on writing every day.

And I was beginning to find it hard to dive into the novel and clamber straight out again before my hair was even wet. (I promise I use better metaphors than that in the novel.)

But I did keep on writing in the nooks and crannies of my life and by the early summer I had almost 55,000 words. The end was in sight, but I really, really wanted to write the rest in one go, not in little bits and pieces.

I booked August off (I'm self-employed so that meant telling precious clients I wouldn't be around, and earning nothing for four weeks - no small deal). But I spent most of it sorting out care for a beloved aunt. To make myself feel a tiny bit better I skidaddled off to Hastings on my own for four days of nothing but writing, and was briefly very happy. Then I returned to my desk and wrote almost nothing of the novel for a couple of months.

I was deeply frustrated, and felt that my novel and I were in danger of falling out of love. I knew I had to immerse myself in it, but daily life (mine at least) just doesn't allow for immersion.

So I booked myself onto a writers' retreat - ten days in Spain, at Casa Ana - and told myself that I'd write and write while I was there, and that if it was humanly possible, I'd finish before I came home.

And I did. Casa Ana turned out to be perfect for me: high in the mountains of the Alpujarra, remote, silent, almost empty. My fellow writers were warm and generous, we were mollycoddled from dawn till dusk, and everyone was there to work: it was easy to write all day, from before breakfast till dinner in the evening. (And the food was wonderful!)

I'd been afraid I wouldn't be able to write for more than a couple of hours a day, because at home that's all I seem to have the stamina for. But Casa Ana proved that if I have no responsibility other than to writing, I can focus completely on it without feeling the need to run away. I didn't stick to my desk all that time - I walked every day, and I lay on my bed and thought about my characters and what was happening to them. But I didn't think about anything else. It was heaven. And I finished the first draft at five o'clock on my last day. The ending's a bit shonky but that's ok, it's a first draft and I know I can make it better.

So I'm happy. But I'm also feeling a bit flat - I'm missing being inside my story, and I'm sort of hesitating about celebrating because I know I haven't finished really. But I'll be back with the novel soon enough, and I'm pretty sure I've done the hard part. (Could be beginner's naivety, but I'm feeling positive so don't pop my balloon, please.)

And in the meantime, I'm celebrating a little bit. Here's the piece of jewellery by Kara that I bought this time last year. I promised myself I'd only wear it when I'd completed the first draft. It's heavy on my arm, and I love it. Now it's reminding me of the work I still have to do, and I can't wait.