I can almost see the end of the first draft on the horizon…
…so that means book two is nearly finished!
Or, as we like to say in reality, so then the real work will start.
‘I’m nearly finished!’ I cry, eyeing the approaching culmination of the book, trying to ignore how lax I’ve been, slotting words in one by one in a veritable Jenga tower of epic proportions until the entire edifice is a superb masterpiece of thought, laid out in text. Of course, that isn’t it at all. One thing I learned with the first book, as every author does, is that although many people never even finish writing a book, finishing it is the end…
…of the first step you take in that journey.
It is tempting to call the first draft FINAL, as if you lend flesh to it by the mere name. And it cannot ever be.
It might be virtually perfect, but you will have written too much, in all likelihood, or not enough in some places. You will have missed out some ideas, some thoughts you needed to express, and others will be wrong, or skeletal. However concisely you thought you wrote, notes crept in, ideas jotted down, and you will end up having to cry like an owner putting a loved pet to sleep as you brutally cut and slice chunks out of your creation, your art, your masterpiece.
It’s heartwrenching. It’s necessary. And that too is just the start. After that, you have to make sure it flows. You have to rearrange bits, and by bits I mean half of it.Then you go back through and check for spelling mistakes.
Once you have read your book in eight different versions in eight different ways, you might – might – think you are ready to have someone look at it, either for proofing (I’d still leave that for later, because of course you fucked up and need to fix things, and don’t even try and tell me you didn’t) or for general editing. And you can’t do that yourself, much as you think you can.
You see, it’s hard to navigate when you’re too close to the sun. You’re in the story. You see it like another world, at times. You don’t have the distance to make the right decisions. You need, God help you, a constructive criticiser. Not one who is snide, or snarky, or focuses on the unimportant things, but one who is positive, encouraging, and brutally, brutally honest about what is not working, and what is. And you need more than one. You need many. From many different loves of genre and walks of life. Professionals, casual readers, lovers and haters of the genre.
A first draft is a funny thing, really. It’s the finishing of a book, and the bigger and more complex, the more Olympic Golds you feel you have won, just for surviving to the end of the damned thing. And it’s about a third of the work.
If you know what you are doing and wrote well, you may spend less than a third editing and filling in. Probably, you will spend more. And that’s not including the spelling, and come what may, something will slip through. You will need to wait for people to read and get back. You yourself will need to take a break from it, let it lose immediacy and allow you a more cynical eye.
I can see in the distance the end of Tides of Chaos. It only makes me realise how much left there is to do, how many notes I have forgotten from a year ago I need to re-read, what is new I need to include, what should wait until the next book, what I have to tie into book one. And to my slightly more experienced eye (than last time), it is still probably at least 30, 000 words away. Yes, the length of a novel. And no, it won’t all make it in. I write like I sculpt, or like a bodybuilder preps. Add the substance, and then lean down, cut in, lose the excess, and leave the tight show-ready core exposed. (I tried to write it all perfectly. The books have had their own ideas on that method).
That’s the theory. It is more chaotic than that, partially because as I write a sizeable amount is left to whim as it happens, which can end up taking the story unexpected paths on their way to the goal. That is good. It surprises me. The muse takes control. That’s what happened with Aldwyn, and to a degree with Grukust. That’s how I knew what the title of The Serpent Calls actually meant.
I expect to get through a good ten drafts of this blighted book before it’s ready to even go to editors and peer reviewers for them to point out everything shit so I can make it flow and work. I know how it goes, but sometimes my head merges with the words and it’s hard to split them out and see what the hell I have written. Your mind fills in gaps; that’s why you need other people.
It doesn’t help that when I’m writing, it has the feeling for a long time of a vast, nebulous hurricane, a ponderous slow-moving storm that slowly and organically takes shape. All I feel I am really doing is pushing it along, and the shape changes often. If you get it right, it breaks and it’s perfect, or as perfect as you admit it when you finally stop tinkering.
Finishing writing a book is an incredible achievement. But it isn’t the final step.
Be prepared for at least as much work again afterwards, and that your child may feel like a changeling more than once before it is truly born. You need help, you need time.
But it is so, so worth it.
Don’t give up. If you feel you have a book in you, write it. If you only ever want to write it for yourself, do that. It’s quicker, easier. If you write for yourself and to share with others, there is more to do. But do it anyway.
Stories must be told.