Measuring drafts

I find the word draft deceptive. It is so complete, so finite. It seems to belong to the days of typewriters. I can imagine someone sitting, typing page after page after page and laying them each in a pile. I can imagine them reading through it when it was finished, making changes in a nice red pen, then retyping the whole thing. Voila. That, to me, would be a draft.

I have been trying a new thing with two novels I am currently working on. In order to avoid the tendency to reread and continually amend the beginning chapters, which seems to lead to a pretty lopsided book, I have only let myself reread one previous paragraph before I start writing for the day.

Recently, I started from the beginning and read the whole thing. In some ways, I guess what I have just read is a draft.

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Printed drafts of A Perilous Margin v current novel. Think I have a long way to go.

What I really feel like I have been doing, however, is adding to a skeleton in order to hopefully, one day soon, have a draft. It is like I am making a real body, and the body will be the draft, because then I can cut off some fingers or even a limb, I can smoosh things around and end up with a new body, but I need a body to begin with. This is sounding a bit gross, sorry. Anyway, my first attempts are always skeletal, bare words which carry story but not much else. It is not complete enough, even at 60,000 words, to be a draft because a draft has to be a version of the final result.

To understand what I’m doing better, and because I’m a big nerd who likes thinking about things too much, I kept a few examples of paragraphs from before and after this process.

Before

My dormitory had three extra occupants, I noticed as soon as I entered the room. They were absent but their heavy backpacks were lying against their beds. Men, I guessed by the look of their bags. I felt suddenly jarred by the thought of socialising, easy small-talk seemed suddenly far from my list of priorities. Although they weren’t there and I could in theory have stayed and been alone, I returned to the front of the hostel.

After

I was desperate to get back to my dormitory, which had been such a sanctuary the week before. I pushed the door open, preparing to feel cocooned in safety, and stopped. There were three heavy backpacks lying against three, formally empty beds. Men, I guessed by the look of their bags. I took a step in and dropped my bag on my bed. My bed, in what had been my room. The thought of socialising jarred against the image I had had for the evening, and small-talk was far from my list of priorities. I kicked off my hiking boots, aware of the odour in a way I hadn’t needed to be the week before, and put on my sandals. I stood, feeling lost, the bags like a presence in the room.

It’s still not finished but it is a relief to see progress. Hopefully that’s what I’m seeing.

I think it needs one more read through before it is actually a draft, and then I will abandon it for a nice couple of months. Then, I have found out about this nifty thing where you can send a PDF to your kindle. That is brilliant. That will be the real first draft, or maybe the seventeenth. Who’s counting anyway?

first-drafts

What to do when you’re not publishing

  1. Read lots of really good books and try to be inspired by their genius rather than dispirited by the gulf between you
  2. Read some badly written books and fix them in your head, and remind yourself that physiology – biting lips, churning stomachs, twisting fingers – is as painful to read as it is, apparently, for the character to experience
  3. Read those sentences, paragraphs, or pages written by friends and family that seem so impossibly clever but remind yourself that that is a different gift to writing a book, and fight down that jealousy and the sense that you are the wrong person to be attempting this
  4. Devote some of that precious writing time to looking through old work and thinking about how it might fit in the future

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    Look up writing quotes which can occasionally ring true

  5. Daydream about all the amazing things that you will write and that maybe, one day, will be published, or else will be discovered on your death when you will be hailed the great, unsung hero of your generation
  6. Think about what your life would be like if your favourite book had never been published
  7. Revisit favourite characters
  8. Write a list
  9. Write a paragraph
  10. Write a chapter

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