Saturday 29 June 2019

The work! The work! *

The late Andrea Levy said she began a new book by going to her local library and just scribbling down ‘any old rubbish’. It’s a wonderful phrase that describes perfectly how I get started.

I begin with a rough outline. One A4 page. Then I sit down and write ‘any old rubbish’. I can usually sustain this for about 100 pages, at which point I have a slightly better idea of what I’m aiming for, so I go back to the beginning and rewrite. In the process, I throw away 90% of what I’ve produced. I then repeat this for the second half of the book.

Now I have a complete draft, half of which has been written twice. I go back to the beginning and start again. This time around, I throw about 40% away. As with the first draft, I write fast, just anxious to get the words down and the pages filled. This produces a new draft.

Then the really hard part starts. I now usually have the story fixed in my mind. I know where I’m going. So I can no longer just bang out the words. Now I have to stop and really concentrate. Is this the best description? Do actions follow one another logically? Can the dialogue be shortened? On this third draft I’m really working hard to get it right. (And I often print it and go through the pages making corrections by hand. The cat can be relied upon to provide invaluable editorial assistance.)

So it always comes as a surprise to me when I sit down to write the fourth version and discover that what I thought worked, made sense, was short and pithy and vivid – isn’t. I see bad dialogue, repetitious word use, slackly described action. But – and here’s the comfort – at least I have a good idea of what to do to fix it. It’s hard, but not as hard as that third go round. More than anything, I find, it requires perseverance.

Yesterday, I finished just such a fourth draft of a new book, one I’ll send to my agent next week. I don’t consider it a fourth draft though. It’s the first. It just took me four drafts to make it the first. And ready to be read.

* Apologies to Joseph Conrad. 

1 comment:

Susan Price said...

Four drafts to produce the first draft! -- Lord, I recognise that. Good luck with it, Nick.