Friday 14 January 2022

Writing My Novel: The Real Second Draft

So, I wrote a first draft in 2015. Then, in 2016, I started and then abandoned a second draft. In 2017 and 2018 and every year since there have been short stories. Oh, so many short stories. There were also novel outlines. Oh, so many novel outlines. All for the same novel.

Now, we're in 2022 (even typing that makes me feel a little sick. Anyone else?) and finally, there is a second draft!

I started writing my New and Improved Second Draft in September 2019. There had been a few attempts before that but none of them took. In September 2019 though, I was ready. I wrote consistently, if not every single day, for about a month, and in that time wrote over 43,000 words. I felt pretty good about it. I really thought I would finish that draft before the end of the year.

Then, in October 2019, my laptop's battery died. After a stressful few days of third party batteries causing the laptop to shut down suddenly and at random (making writing on it into some kind of extreme sport that I was not brave enough to attempt) I accepted defeat and left my very old, very beloved laptop at an Apple store for a week.

An enforced break for a couple of weeks right in the middle of the draft. My momentum was knocked but I figured I'd recover it soon enough.

Then, I started getting gallbladder pains. I ended up in hospital, then on a diet that left me constantly weak, dizzy, and bad tempered for months on top of the pain, until finally, I had the keyhole surgery to remove my gallbladder, just in time. A few hours after my surgery, the UK government announced that all non-essential surgery would be cancelled to help hospitals cope with the rapidly intensifying COVID-19 pandemic.

I'll skip the next year of anxiety. Come to summer 2021. Nearly two years after I started this second draft, I finally felt ready to read through those 43,000 words again and try to finish the rest of the story.

I hadn't really written anything in a few months. I'm not very good at handling stress and thanks to, you know, everything, there had been a lot more of it to handle than I was used to. Perhaps that's why I suddenly found myself unable to write.

I would sit at my keyboard and stare at the page. Sometimes, I would manage to force out a sentence or two, but it felt like wading through half-set concrete. I've struggled with writing before, but it had never felt this physically difficult for so long. For weeks, I tried, getting more and more frustrated. Finally, in desperation, I grabbed a pen and a notebook.

Obviously, I've written in notebooks before, but I've always been primarily a keyboard writer, which was what made this block so unsettling. I managed to get a hundred or so words a day down in my notebook, adding them all to the Scrivener document every few days. I hated the slowness of this method but told myself again and again that a few, slow words are better than none all. Then, one day, after I had typed up the words from my notebook, I kept typing. The next day, I opened the Scrivener file and started typing without writing anything in the notebook first.

I finished my second draft in November 2021. It is 90,380 words long. It is still not very good.

This draft, it turns out, is not what I want this novel to be, but I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't finished it. Sure, it would have been nice to get to this place a little sooner, but there we are. The important thing is that now I know what I don't want this story to be, it should be a little easier to figure out what I do want it to be. Plus, writers are always saying it's important to finish things, and I certainly felt relieved when I finally finished this thing!

Now I just have to make sure I don't take an unexpected year and a half break in the middle of the next draft.

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