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.

2016-07-30 18.41.13

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

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