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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Finishing the first draft...sort of

When I finally got writing, it didn't take long to complete the book. I started with 144 pages done, and soon made it to page 200, then 220, 240 and so on. When I reached 245 I had a sudden realisation. All along I'd been aiming for around 350 pages, the length that I feel as a reader has given me value for my purchase. Yet I also realised that my story was nearly complete. It flowed. It made sense. It had a beginning, middle and end. The only problem was that it didn't fulfil my initial aim, which was to include all the good bad and crazy stories from across four seasons on the road. My first book was solely about my first season, applying for the job, getting through the training, surviving the first season of tours, getting asked back. It seemed nice and neat to enscapsulate all the other standout stories in one volume. How hard could it be? But the book took on a life of its own, and soon enough it was apparent that I had enough material from my second season (which was, incidentally, far worse than my first season - and probably the reason why it had so much good material to make use of) for an entire book. Once I had this thought, I fought it. I didn't want to accept it. I had planned to write, well to finish, one book over my sabbatical. Certainly not two. But after a few days pondering the problem, I had to listen to my instincts. The story was done, and if I didn't try and fill it out with extra incidents, it meant I could use the extra words remaining to add things like character flaws, brief descriptions of places, interesting titbits. My book was nearly done. The catch - I have to write one more, in order to fit in all the most outlandish incidents. So it's 'sort of' good news. The other problem, once I accepted this solution, was that my first draft FELT finished, but wasn't actually finished. Since then I've spent the past two, three, perhaps more weeks going over it and adding bitsa. Bits here, bits there. Rewording a sentence or a thread of dialogue. Adding in aspects I hadn't covered yet but were integral to that season (such as the outbreak of foot and mouth and how half the clients became vegetarians overnight). Checking whether I could substitute a better word. Checking the flow. Thinking about names that match the character best. Making notes of where I should do extra research and consider adding some history or trivia. Working out which bits are longwinded (like this post!) and how to cut them down. Reordering scenes so they make the most sense, insofar as revealing aspects of life on tour. And so on. This is continuing right now, even though I had a self imposed time limit of March to have the first draft in a readable format. It is readable, it's just that it also includes lots of notes for the handful of people I've coopted to be my sample Readers, and for them to answer as they read through. I've put perfection on hold. I'm happy that the story seems to flow, it works now, the order is fine, and it's self-contained. The rest of the finetuning will have to wait until April. Most writers advise putting your draft in a desk drawer and coming back to it in 3 months time, in order to look at it with fresh eyes. I don't have that kind of time to wait, as I want to utilise the sabbatical period as best I can. However, I will be taking a month, and hopefully that will be enough. What I have learned: The story will tell you when it's done, not the other way round. The need to be flexible and adaptable when the story speaks back. Finetuning is a black hole of time. I've spent almost as much time tinkering as I did writing. And now - time for a break.

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