You know how computer programmers say the first 95% takes 95% of the time? And the last 5% also takes 95% of the time? I can so relate to that because that’s exactly how a novel is; the first draft takes 95% of the time – then the rewrites also take 95% of the time. Even so, I have a huge sense of achievement in being able to say that I have finished!!! the first draft of my novel Tapestry (working title) whose chapters are based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.
The idea came from hearing that the Bayeux Tapestry (see above) was about to come to Britain. Around the same time someone lent me a book from a Grayson Perry exhibition, also of tapestries – and the two came together. I don’t know where the Fibonacci idea came in but it just seemed to work on so many levels. So there we are, and 84,000 words later (gulp!) the first draft is done.
The first chapters came easily, being only a thousand words each. After that it got more complicated and when I reached Chapter 21 (21,000 words) I began to set myself a daily word challenge. I would write 700 words a day and then stop. If I was still in the flow after 700 words, that was all to the good, I could pick it up again the next day – if not, it didn’t matter. It was amazing how the sense of slow and steady progress built, week after week; finishing Chapter 21 and starting on the dauntingly lengthy Chapter 34 (34,000 words) but I got there. You’ll be pleased to know that Chapter 55 is deliberately unfinished as the narrator dies (I think a 55,000-word chapter is asking too much of any reader – I’m not Proust.)
So there we have it. This week I shall be mostly… getting stuff ready to send to publishers and winding down ready for August, a month of No Work.
I found today’s writing quote very helpful. Yesterday I got through a fair amount of work, including 1400 words of the novel, not a bad word-count for an afternoon – but was I happy? No. The last thing I wrote in my diary was: ‘Why is writing so horrible, why don’t I enjoy it more?’
I guess when I write a first draft, particularly of a novel (this is not so true of short stories and not at all true of poetry where the beginnings are the most exciting part) I have no clue where I’m going. I simply write what comes – and often, what comes seems either irrelevant or completely mad. I was once compelled to write a scene where Father Christmas turns out to be a convict in disguise. He meets Jack and Jill and gives them presents of ice and snow; eventually Jill penetrates his disguise and the scene ends with Father Christmas saying ‘Ho ho ho!’ in an evil and yet hopeless way. I wrote that scene twenty years ago and I still have no idea what it means. Maybe one day it’ll come to me.
One thing that is particularly scary, especially for the new writer, is the thought that you may reveal yourself in ways you are not aware of but which the reader will notice. For example, at a writers’ group I once attended there was a male writer of crime fiction. He read his stories out regularly and they made us all very uncomfortable as in every one a woman was horribly murdered or mutilated. Eventually when this was pointed out to him, that all his female characters came to a very sticky end at the hands of the men, it was a real tumbleweed moment: there was a horrible silence as it dawned on him that he was acting out revenge fantasies in his fiction.
So today’s writing quote was this: ‘I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that I can make a sand-castle later.’