Whilst I’ve been living my normal life – walking the dogs, clearing out the kitchen cupboards, competing in swimming championships, laying plans for an orangery (I say!) – I have also been writing another novel. Surreptitiously. Almost, I might say, without noticing. I can report that I’m now nearing the end of my first draft. One big, final scene to write and then it’s all in the bag.
I have no idea what this novel is like. Really. I set out with a rough plan, a few character outlines and the main arc of a story. Every day that I could, I sat down and wrote 500 words or more. Some days I couldn’t. Some days I didn’t. Bit by bit, however, without my paying too much attention, the novel got written.
Having barely glanced back over what I’ve written, I know very little about it. I am aware of some obvious differences to my previous novel. This one has a much smaller cast of characters. There is less inter-play between characters, less dramatic cause and effect. The plot is simpler. The conflict more internal.
I have included more telling in this novel. My previous novel was show, show, show, perhaps because it was conceived during my MA in Creative Writing where we all know ‘show don’t tell’ is the overriding mantra. When I re-drafted that novel recently, I added more telling, more interiority. Sometimes the reader needs to be told, not shown, how a character thinks or feels.
Whilst on the subject of my previous novel, I’ve finally reached a point where I am, dare I say it, pretty damn satisfied with it. I’ve taken a long time to reach that point, with much processing of feedback, gaining of distance and re-evaluations.
I attended an author’s event recently at which Maggie O’Farrell gave a reading from her latest novel, followed by an interview and Q&A. When asked how many times she drafted her novels, she asked the audience to guess. ‘Twice? Three times?’ members of the audience offered. Nope. She estimated it was at least forty. Forty drafts! Music to my ears.
I don’t consider this to be the sign of a weak writer. I consider it the sign of a meticulous self-editor and someone who takes their writing very seriously: a professional.
I know from experience that, when I say I have completed a first draft, it means very little. It means I have some words to play with. A story to shape. Characters to make credible. But before I get onto any of that, I need to write the final scene. It’s a big, high drama scene. Quite a challenge, in fact. Which, no doubt, is why I’m writing this blog instead. I’m going to quickly change tabs on my computer now and see if I can surreptitiously write the finale without noticing that I’m writing it. A few thousand words with my eyes half shut. And then, once it’s done, I’ll be ready to give the book my undivided attention.