First draft: so long, and thanks for The End!

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way, shall we?

It has taken, by my reckoning, 11 weeks of fairly intensive writing, but after stringing together 102,750 words I have finally completed the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel. I make that around 360-370 pages of a regular paperback in old money.

Lucian Poll's First Draft Feeling
That completed first draft feeling!

And, boy, do I feel all the better for it. You don’t believe me? Well, take a look for yourself…

It’s like I’ve undergone an exorcism, albeit one where the priest hands me the demon in a lovely bottle as a keepsake.

The overriding sensation is one of relief that I have finally gotten this story out of my head and onto paper, but, of course, the job is only really half done.

Few writers, if any, get things right first time. Those that do are liars. Hemingway, ever the writer’s go-to guy for memorable quotes, once declared that “The first draft of anything is shit.” There is, if you will forgive the pun, a ring of truth to that.

If, as it happens, you are a literary wunderkind that can get everything right first time, like some Anthony Trollope incarnate, then bully for you. For the rest of us mere mortals the first draft of a novel is going to be prone to all sorts of stuff guaranteed to make the writer’s skin crawl.

Such embarrassment doesn’t necessarily stop at typos, stilted dialogue and clunky prose, however. In a first draft you may find that you’ve dragged out an action sequence for too long, or you have scenes that seemed like a good idea at the time but no longer fit into the overall story, or you might find certain characters acting out of… erm… character. You may find that your authorial voice changes between the start and the end, or that your writing style relies too much on a phrase or sentence structure that jars the more it is noticed.

These latter problems can only really be hit upon by following a simple, albeit counterintuitive rule.

When it comes to redrafting a work it is often said that you should first put it away for a month or two and do something else in the meantime. (Stephen King is a great proponent of this approach in his book, ‘On Writing’.) That way your brain can recharge and give you the necessary distance to revisit the work with a more critical eye. You can then pick up the piece and read it in one go, making it easier to detect its weaknesses.

So that’s the plan. Doing nothing is going to be hard, though, as I’m itching to improve the story now, dammit, and I have a list of things that need beefing up or tightening. On the other hand, being a lazy bastard of some standing (but mainly sitting), doing nothing does have its charms.

Arm = twisted.

As there has been some slippage I have had to rejig my schedule of Things To Do. Easter weekend now marks the start of the second draft, which I hope to complete by the end of May. That then gives me 3 1/2 months to get a professional opinion on the manuscript, as well as placing it under the noses of a few test readers. Save for any massive failures in the story, I should then be able to knock out a final draft ready for Friday 13th September 2013.

In the meantime I’ll get busy with Inkscape and GIMP. There’s the new banner up top, for example, to tease you with. Next up is the rear cover (for the print-on-demand version I’ll put through CreateSpace) and adverts for possible placement in magazines or on flyers.

Oh, and there’s always another story to write!

Onwards!

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