Thursday, 29 May 2008

Update and Plug

Hello all,

I just thought I'd pop along, say hello and let you know how the old oeuvre is going. My plan was to finish a first draft of my third novel before my baby was born, and it looks like I might achieve that aim with knobs on. It helps that I've decided the book will be 16,000 words shorter than originally estimated, but I've now completed 74% of the book, at 59,344 words. If I continue at my current rate, I'm planning to have the whole thing done by the end of next week. Woohoo!

It's my third book and I learn new things with each one. Up to now I haven't found any significant method which has stuck. I've approached each one differently, and always felt a little lacking in, er, clue. But I think this time I've hit upon one basic technique which works well for me. There's a good chance I'll use it for every book I write from now on, and for what it's worth here it is:

I've attacked the first draft like a thing demented. I've refused to read back anything I've written (apart from when necessary to verify plot points), and haven't even corrected most typos. Rewrites and edits are banned until I have a full first draft, at which point I'll go back (after a significant "percolation" period) and do a full edit. As I've gone along I've had various thoughts about what I've written so far: I've spotted plot weaknesses and inconsistencies, and things have happened in the current action which will need explanations or set-ups in earlier parts of the book, but I've made a note of all these things in a separate file, and will fix / insert them in the second draft. Normally I insert notes in the ms itself, but I've banned myself from doing that. This is because when I've finished, I'm putting it aside for six weeks or more and ignoring it. Then I'll go back and read it, with a (hopefully) fresh head. Which won't work so well if the text is littered with notes and reminders.

I think there are two big benefits to this approach:
(1) It makes the whole thing more cohesive, both in style and substance. I'm writing it in a short space of time, and that means I keep the same tone and style throughout. But because I'm refusing to allow myself any rewrites-on-the-fly, the plot is consistent and simple and makes sense from beginning to end.
(2) It keeps the momentum going and makes doubts harder. My attitude is that this is only a first draft, that it's bound to have mistakes and problems, which can all be dealt with later. This attitude removes a lot of the fear, and helps drive me forward rather than grinding to periodical halts.

Partly I was forced into this method, by a lack of time and an immutable deadline. I may make small changes to the technique for my next book. For instance, I may read and line-edit the previous day's writing at the beginning of each day. I'm a little worried that when I do my first read-through, the presence of typos and lack of basic line-editing may stand in the way of my ability to stand back and judge the book as a whole. I also wonder whether a lot of the smaller-but-necessary changes I've noted in a separate file could have been done on the fly, and again this would make the first read-through more productive.

Another approach, if I had the time and didn't have so many other things I want to do before the baby is born, would be to go back to the beginning as soon as I've finished and make the smaller changes from my notes file, as well as a full line-edit. But the basic principle - write the first draft fast and furious with no rewrites or major edits until it's done - is, I think, sound.

But, you know. That's just me! Might not work for everyone.

In other news, I wrote an opinion piece about popular culture for the wonderful Vulpes Libris book blog, which has appeared today and generated a lively debate in the comments box. Please do join in. It's here.

P.S. Will I win a prize if I finish my first draft next week? Will this motivate any of you first-drafters to get those typing fingers out; try and beat me to it? How exciting if so!

18 comments:

Leatherdykeuk said...

Well done Clare! I'm very impressed. I'm still plodding along with a first draft only 48% written.

Clare Sudbery said...

um, I don't really have anything to say. I'm just trying to use that "email follow-up comments" functionality, which seems to demand that I post a comment myself...

Clare Sudbery said...

lduk, there's something about impending motherhood that focuses the mind wonderfully. I wonder if I'll ever write a book this quickly again...

Captain Black said...

Well done Clare.
If you don't mind, I'm going to steal some of your technique. As Stephen King says on first drafts: "Just tell the bloody story" (paraphrased).

DK Leather said...

I'm rather afraid that's my 'technique' if you can call it that - just write the blasted thing and worry about editing later! :-) x

btw, I'm just back to reading TDOD and loving it again! (I do way too much in life)

L-Plate Author said...

Hey everyone, happy Friday.

Hi Clare, I do hope your bump isn't getting too much bigger, honey!

Have to say your technique works for me too. I have to keep on plodding or else the tendency to meddle takes over and I'd never get to the end. And yes, it's diabolical going through it all again but you'll be so excited about all the light bulbs flashing up new ideas that you won't be bothered by the little things ;)

My progress report? I thought I'd better get this in before you possibly win the race next Friday?! Sorry I have been quiet on the blogging front. Sorry that I haven’t been round to visit you all lately. But I have news.

Can you keep a secret? I’m not sure that if I tell you the bubble will burst. I’m not sure that everything will take as long as before with no outcome. For my sanity, I can’t mention names because I am so scared that everything will go pear shaped, as usual, and it will be months before anything happens, if anything again, but…

I have a new agent.

Maybe my persistence has paid off. x

Fiona said...

Enjoyed and agreed with your piece on Vulpes Libris. And why can't you love both? East Enders and Enid Blyton are just as good for the mind as the high brow stuff.
Libby Purves's book - is that the same child rearing book she wrote in the eighties? If so I read it but couldn't afford the nanny!

B said...

Glad things are going well Clare.

And l-plate - OMG OMG OMG! That is so exciting! Well done :)

Flowerpot said...

Well done Clare! I've got another 10,000 words to go which wouldnt normally take long but journalism is getting in the way - of to interview a surgeon in a minute!

CC Devine said...

That's great news, Clare. I think that it sounds like an emminently sensible approach and the key thing is that it works for you. I'm still plodding on with my never-ending re-write but may well pinch some of your ideas when I approach my next wip.

L-Plate - fab news! V exciting :)

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

L-Plate - WOW!!! Well done!

Clare, I'm not sure about the prizes; I've been looking through the archives but can't work it out. There's a possibility that you might get a how-to book of your choice from me, which would be ironic considering the number we've lent each other over the years! But I can't work out which prize is for which category. Liz might know; Liz, if you're reading this, can you clarify?

And are we having a coffee morning today, or shall we hijack Clare's post's comments box for that?

liz fenwick said...

HI Zinnia, I'm pretty sure it's a book from you on this but will go back and check.......

It's Kate K who is down for today's and next week's coffee. I will confess that since she began to manage the rota I didn't give her a reminder. Sorry........

WTG Clare on meeting your targets!

I'm so thrilled for you L-plate!!!!!!

Huge appologies for being so quiet. I had hoped that this week would be a week of catch up on blogging etal but there has been so admin with the boys and the house that I don't know where the time has gone!

Clare Sudbery said...

Capt Black: "If you don't mind, I'm going to steal some of your technique."

Of course, go for it!

dkl: "I'm rather afraid that's my 'technique' if you can call it that "

Oh yes, let's call it that, and then we can pat ourselves on the back! ;o) Am v. glad you're enjoying my book, btw. Tis always nice to hear.

L-Plate - many congrats on the agent! That's fantastic news. Of course things may still move very slowly - well that's my experience anyway - but it's definitely a massive and important step in the right direction, and worth celebrations and congratulations.

Fiona - She wrote two books in the 80s, or maybe 90s too, that I'm aware of: How Not to be a Perfect Parent, which was focused on babies and toddlers, then How Not to Raise the Perfect Child, which was more about older children and was the one I was referring to. I do feel bad about it though, as actually both books rae really good (the first in partic is very funny), but I didn;t agree with what she said about telly, and I did generally get a bit of mummy-angst about all the wonderful things she does, and felt a bit inferior generally...

Zinnia, I'm quite happy to get another book from you, particularly if I get to keep it! It's about time I read another one of those, anyway.

Clare Sudbery said...

P.S. Bump has now been measured by midwife and is officially much more enormous than they would expect for this stage of pregnancy, but the dates are definitely right. It may mean it is an enormous baby, so they will be scanning me to check for that. But it may just be fat!

Debs said...

clare - well done, nothing like having a deadline to especially an exciting one.

l-plate - so excited for you. Congratulations.

L-Plate Author said...

Oops, thanks for all the congrats but I believe apologies are in order Clare. I got up early this morning and thought you were the friday coffee break question thingie. Sorry to steal your thunder honey xx

Clare Sudbery said...

Hey no worries, l-plate, good news is good news wherever you find it! I'm v glad for you.

Clare Sudbery said...

Hmmm, I've now ground to a halt. The old fear factor again. I'm sposed to be writign right now but am instead surfing the net in ever-more desperate fashion, trying to find something I haven't already read, annything to avoid having to write that bloody book... and I've nearly finished it too. What an idiot I am.