I’m starting a new category here: WIP. (Work-in-progress, for the non-acronym-obsessed amongst you).
I’ll be posting bits and pieces here about my current WIP until it becomes a thing-that-is-no-longer-in-progress (aka a book). I ‘finished’ the first draft of this novel a few days ago. I was planning to write ‘The End’ as a joke but I just couldn’t do it.
It is so very far from being finished.
The first time I ‘finished’ a novel – back in 2000, when I got to the end of the first draft of Nine Hours North – I was pretty excited. That’s probably an okay reaction. But I thought I’d Finished.
It took six years and eleventy billion drafts until it was actually published. I learned a huge amount in that time – about rejection, persistence, faith, despair, and the importance of always having something else on the go – but one of the most important things was learning about ‘the end’.
A first draft is just that. The first of what will be many more, before it’s finally ready to see the world. I’ve actually grown to love drafting. For me that’s when the good stuff happens. It’s when you get to shape this giant sprawling pile of words into something shiny. It’s when you get to step back and realise all the things you were trying to say but haven’t quite said yet. I’ve always been jealous of sculptors, finding their perfect forms in that ungainly block of stone. This is my equivalent.
I stumbled a bit at the start of this year. Fell into a depressive slump and didn’t write anything for months. This happens, from time to time. This post is not about that, but it’s related (see: faith, despair, persistence).
With stern/inspiring words from my mentor, encouragement from my writing buddy, and an attempt to swim myself out of depression (I’m talking about literal laps here – chlorine and heart rate and routine and endorphins), I was getting back on track. I was writing again, but I was having trouble with the ever-present ever-shouty Bastard of Self Doubt.
(BSD is not your friend, but if you’re a writer you will probably spend more time with him/her than with your actual friends. BSD cuts the words from your fingers before you’ve even had a chance to put them on the page).
And then something wonderfully serendipitous happened. A writer friend, Justine Larbalestier, asked me to read her first draft. She didn’t even call it that – she called it ‘draft zero’ – and she wanted some feedback.
It was a mess.
Don’t get me wrong. It was a compelling page-turner of a mess, and I loved reading it, but there were loose ends everywhere, plot points that didn’t point to anything, an ending that didn’t end so much as stop, and the occasional grammar lapse that would have had your English teacher plucking their eyes out.
It was wonderful. Justine is a many-times-internationally-published-award-winning-writer, and this manuscript was a mess. It was so liberating, and hit me at just the right moment. You can do that?
I read it, I gave some (hopefully useful) feedback, and then I got on with writing my own. I’d written about 35,000 words before my slump. In the last few months I’ve added more than 50,000, and reached ‘the end’ of the story. Most of those I haven’t looked back at, apart from a quick skim at the start of the day to reorient myself.
But I have faith in that pile. I know it’s an enormous mess, and I know there’s so much work to do, but I have my stone now, and I have my chisel, and it’s time to get to work on the next stage.