First Draft Madness

Last week I finished the second draft of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – Part 5. I originally scribbled this book into a notepad about six months ago. Finishing the second draft was exciting, because I managed to untangle the ending I had got in a mess with, and this lead to such excitement about the planned and plotted Part 6, I just couldn’t resist launching right into it.

So, in the evenings I am currently editing a chapter or two a night of Part 5, (making this the third draft). While in the day, any chance I can get, I am writing brand new, first draft Part 6 into a notebook. I am so excited!!!!

I have realised over the years that writing the first draft of a novel has a really strange affect on me. I love it but fear it. I can’t get enough of it. It is something I get addicted to, but also can’t wait to be over. I thought I’d list the things that happen to me when writing a first draft. Perhaps if you are a writer, you can relate? Feel free to comment if you do!

  • I feel nervous. This is a very, very weird thing. Now, I don’t think of myself as an especially anxious person, but like everyone, I have my moments. However, there is nothing that can make me quite as anxious and tense as writing a first draft. It’s really really hard to pinpoint why. All I know is that I will wake up with a nervous tight feeling in my belly, go about my day with that same heavy, almost painful sensation, start to panic about what it means, only to find it goes away completely once I start writing. This does not happen with the subsequent drafts of novels. Just the first! I guess it makes me nervous, though I’m not sure why. Maybe its nervous excitement? The longing to be writing is so strong that knowing I can’t do it until later makes my body tense? I have no idea.
  • I am addicted. This is the worst thing and also the best thing. Obviously, feeling addicted to what you are writing is a good thing because there is no danger of writers block or any kind of procrastination. I am utterly in love with the act of writing and shaping this novel and it feels like that too, like butterflies in my tummy. But it’s not the easiest thing to live with. When you’ve got two day-jobs, multiple pets and four children, it’s hard to find the time to squeeze writing in and when in the midst of the pure addiction that only happens with the first draft, it’s a bit like torture not being able to write.
  • I am distracted. Beyond belief! When I was a kid I was constantly being told by people that I was in my own little world. They were right I really was. And I still am. I’m still that kid. In a constant daydream I struggle to break free of. I am constantly thinking about my book and my characters. Plot twists and story-lines weave through my head all the time, which is exciting and brilliant, but I’m meant to be reading to my child? Or making dinner? Sometimes I wish the voices in my head would be quiet. Or at least wait until later. But they have other ideas and I just have to deal with it the best I can.
  • Creativity is at its peak. I usually have a plot before I start writing. In particular, with these books as they are part of a series, the plots are somewhat already in action, and at the end of the last book I would have written an outline for what happens in the next. But something exciting happens with the first draft of a book. Yes, I’ll have my basic plot, but every time I write a chapter, I get new ideas for the next ones. The next chapter will write itself in my head before I have finished the one I am on. The next chapters will line up in my mind while I am walking dogs and cooking dinner…it’s like a constant bubbling? I truly believe the more you write, the more your mind wants to write. The ideas flow once you let them, once your provide that release. It’s like they know it’s coming and they are finally getting their turn! It’s really quite amazing. So although my basic plot probably won’t change, in the process of writing the first draft, creativity will hit the roof. I also find I have way more ideas for blog posts, poems and short stories during this time!

There are loads more things I could say about writing a first draft. I think it’s important to let go of how clumsy and new it is, and just embrace the ideas as they flow. Subsequent drafts are for tidying up, tightening up and cutting down…and I enjoy that process just as much for different reasons. But the first draft is a crazy time…a crazy thing. I will be a bit sad when it is over for this book!

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In The Writing Zone…

It’s my favourite place and I love it here. Yes, I am currently well and truly trapped in the writing zone. For anyone who is not sure what I mean by this, imagine being given full access to the thing you love doing the most. Imagine that thing giving you pure, unadulterated joy. Imagine that thing going really, really well and filling you with feelings of satisfaction and excitement. That is how I would describe the writing zone.

Of course, I’m a writer and I write every day if I can. Sometimes life gets in the way and it doesn’t happen. Sometimes I am trapped in the editing zone for what feels like years…This is not so bad. I actually love editing and revising my books. To me, this process is really interesting, as you begin to shape and mould your first splurge of words into something that others can hopefully one day appreciate.

But I have to admit that writing the first draft of a new book is the most fun thing ever, and perhaps the most addictive. If it is going well, and I am well and truly ‘in the zone’, then the book is all I can think about. Here are some signs that I am in the writing zone, with no sign of emerging any time yet…

  • when I am not writing, I am thinking about writing. The book in progress dominates my every waking thought. It follows me around like a daydream I can’t escape from. If I go for a walk, the book is in my head. If I go to bed, there it is again. There is no escaping it and I wouldn’t want to.
  • when I am writing, I’m writing fast. Super fast. It’s been there all day teasing me and making suggestions, so when I finally get at that keyboard, it’s a bit like an explosion. Certainly, it’s messy and there will be plenty to clear up later in further drafts, but right now, speed is everything. I need to get that story out of my head!
  • when in the zone, time does not exist. I don’t even think to look at the time. It’s just not relevant. I will keep going until I feel there is a good place to stop and leave it for tomorrow.
  • I am happy. Really happy. This new book has probably been in my head for years and the book is happy to be getting its turn and the characters are really, really happy to be having their voices heard, and so I am happy too. It gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction and relief to be finally writing a book that has had to wait so long.
  • I’m excited. I kind of hate the start of the day, because normally writing has to wait until the evening. So I feel guilty, but can’t help wishing the day away so that I can get to the end of it and start my writing.
  • the writing is my reward. I can’t allow myself to have this reward until everything else is done. So, the day-jobs, the children, the pets, the husband, the house, the errands all need to be sorted out, before I can allow myself this wonderful indulgence. This is a great motivator because there is no way I am not getting my writing time!
  • I am distracted. There is a running joke in my house that I react to things a few minutes after I’ve heard them…and this is probably true. I’m so distracted by the writing zone, that it’s hard to focus on anything else. I get really forgetful in this state and my family certainly notice it.
  • I feel like myself. I think when I am sucked into the zone, I am more ‘me’ than I am at any other time. Which sort of means, I am multiple ‘me’s’ ? Slightly worrying perhaps, but I think more than anything, writing and loving writing are what make me me. It is the love that has been with me the longest and saved me the most times and provided me with so much it’s impossible to even try to explain.
Basically me!

So, that’s me, ‘in the zone’. I’m working on two new books, (one is the first in a four book series, and the other is the fifth in a sixth book series) at the same time. It’s utterly crazy but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why I Love Writing # 5; Sometimes It’s Pure Magic

Actually, it’s pretty magical most of the time. Of course, there are days when it feels like anything but. When you’re revising the hundredth draft of something, when you feel like it’s a complete waste of time that no one will ever want to read. There are days when you don’t want to do it, days when you feel rejected and uninspired and full of self-doubt.

But the magical days for me, outweigh the negative ones. They can happen at any time during the creation of a finished novel. I often find the writing of a first draft a magical thing. That first line, first paragraph, first chapter is so daunting, so impossible, yet suddenly you’ve done it. It’s there. And then strange things start to happen. Magical things.

Characters you had a loose idea of start to come alive. They flesh out and invade your mind. They start talking to you and you talk back. That’s magic. The magic of make-believe. And then there’s the plot itself. I often have a good idea of what’s going to happen in a book before I start writing, and I would have made lots of notes before starting the first draft, but at some point, something else seems to take over. Unexpected things happen. The plot takes another direction, or parts of the story start to weave together in ways that are genius, but like something out of my control. Sometimes it feels like there is something else at play, controlling the whole thing.

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Often I know where I am going, but not how I will get there. I never worry too much about the finer points because I have learned to sit back and let the magic happen. And it always does. Out of the blue, never when I expect it to, it will all just come together. This happened to me recently with the six book series I am working on. Books 1-4 are written, and book 5 has had one very rough draft. I knew roughly what I wanted to happen in book 6, what storylines would be continued, but I didn’t know how I would end the book, or indeed, the whole series. I didn’t stress about it because I still had work to do editing books 3 and 4, and book 5 to write a second draft of.

But one day, out walking, it just suddenly came to me. My mind pieced it all together without me even trying, without me even consciously deciding to think about it. I suddenly just had it. How to end the book and the entire series, and it was perfect.

How does that work? How does that even happen? I have no idea, but like I’ve already said, sometimes I really feel like it’s not me in my head, working things out. Moments like that are so satisfying, and magical, they make all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.

First Draft Relief as The Voices Fall Silent!

I’ve blogged before about the delirious happiness involved in getting to the finish line and completing the first draft of a novel in The Gloriously Ugly First Draft .

Last night, I was thinking about that blog post and about how wonderful it is to finish the first draft, because I was in that position again. Actually, I’ve written two as of yet unreleased books since that blog post, but they are still waiting beta reader feedback and further edits!

As I mentioned in the other blog post, I have a constant problem with characters interrupting me when I am already working on something. It’s really no good me having plans because they get ripped up at every turn. So, while still working on Elliot Pie, I wrote A Song For Bill Robinson and it’s sequel, Emily’s Baby. Enough to be dealing with, right? But as usual, my characters thought I could handle more.

For a long time, I’d had these alternative endings in my head for The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. I wrote one of them into my short story collection, Bird People and Other Stories and the other one I started working into a screenplay. I’ve always loved the idea of this book becoming a TV series, so for fun and for a challenge, I started writing new material for these characters. Once I started I could not stop, but it didn’t really get in the way of the novels I was working on, as I used a notebook and pen and just wrote in spare moments, moving the book around the house with me. I got so addicted to this new material, that the characters got louder and louder all over again, keeping me awake, telling me their story was not over and finally enticing me into writing a whole new book.

I will explain all this in more detail in a later blog post, but what I finished last night was the first and gloriously ugly first draft to what will be called The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part 3. This is a whole new book, new material, new problems for these characters, and with the original ending moved to the end of part 3. As I said, I will talk about this in another post.

This is about the relief of a first draft being finished and last night felt incredible. As it always does when a first draft is completed because although I know the hard work is yet to come, and that potentially years more work will be needed, I get the relief in my head of these people falling silent. That’s what happens as soon as the first draft is done. They shut up and go to sleep. Okay in later drafts, they occasionally pop up and steer me in a different direction, but generally, it’s over and I can sleep again. The story has been told. I’ve spewed it out! I’m free of it! And that is a huge relief. Especially with this story, as let me tell you, it’s been keeping me awake at night since I was 12 years old! I am really, really hoping that this does it for them. I am really hoping they will now be at peace and leave me alone! As much as I love them…I have so many other books to work on!

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And of course, now that those characters are silenced, the ones waiting to be heard have suddenly got louder.  I’ve planned and plotted a four book YA series, which keeps getting pushed back due to these other projects, but today on a dog walk, wow did they pipe up! Streams of dialogue were coming out of nowhere…my every thought whilst walking was about these books and characters. So I guess now it’s their turn to keep me awake!