Those of you with long memories might remember that the 1st February this year was officially the start of my new book (though one commenter did suggest starting a day early in order to creep up on it and take it by surprise, which I thought was fabulous).
So, I am now about six weeks in to a new project. And whenever anyone asks ‘how’s the new book going?’, I am forced to answer truthfully: it’s awful.
Then I get sympathetic grins, and I’m-sure-it’s-not-as-bad-as-you-thinks.
‘Oh no,’ I say with a smile. ‘It’s really bad. Worst thing ever. Like a microwaved dog’s dinner with hundreds and thousands on top. Like a compost heap tipped onto your dinner table libated with vegetarian gravy. Like school dinners rolled in mouldy parmesan and deep fried in snail slime.’
But that’s actually OK.
This will be my sixth novel when it's finished (though two of these live under the bed, never to be seen again). And I have come to learn that the point of a first draft, for me, is to give myself permission to be awful. I might start with a plan; I might have all the best intentions. I will scribble a list of scenes and possible chapters. But by page 30 the plan will be in ruins. The first draft is just me slinging random ideas onto a page until I hit a fairly arbitrary word count.
Then, I will stop and take stock.
It is draft two where the story takes a proper shape. Which does mean that the word count in my ‘deleted scenes’ file tends to be longer than the final novel. I was talking to a documentary film maker recently and he told me that he will film hours and hours of footage ‘just to see what he gets’. Most of this will end up on the proverbial cutting room floor; the story is only decided once he sees what material he has. My first drafts provide me with those hours of footage.
Drafts three, four and five are where the refinement comes in. That’s when I worry about whether the jokes are funny, whether the metaphors work and whether I’ve spelled the characters’ names the same the whole way through.
But draft one? That’s a ramshackle, teetering, uncoordinated mess. And I've learned that I can't do it any other way.
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