Despite my diminished working time, I feel that I have made some significant progress in the last week or so. You might say that I have broken the back of the novel, although given the mood swings that go with writing a novel, it could have knitted its own spine back together by next week for all I know.
At this point I can see the end, and know just what I need to do in order to get to the end of the first draft. It's just a matter of systematically working through each section that needs to be added (in contrast to the last one, I have not worked from beginning to end, I have jumped around a lot). It's been slow. I have installed a picometer to the right (you may have noticed it creeping slowly upwards), but I have written many more than 42,000 words over the past year - 42,000 is just the number of words that have stuck. And I do tend to revise somewhat as I go, so I don't race through a complete draft and turn around at the end, breathless, to see what I've got. I know what I've got. Now. I say 'now' because a few weeks ago I definitely lacked clarity; clarity which I now have gained. I think. (Hark at her, how certain she sounds!)
I decided it was time to send some out to a trusted reader. Most of my readers are other writers. I will be having a long overdue meeting with my writing group when I go to Wellington in March (I say long overdue, but I have not been ready up until now). But in the meantime, I needed another type of reader. Not a writer-reader, but a reader-reader. So I sent it off to my friend Mary (not Mary McCallum fyi). What is great about Mary is that she is a very careful and intelligent reader. She will not only get excited for me if she is enjoying it, she will tell me exactly what works and why. She is the perfect person to send my first four chapters to because she will ask a lot of questions about what is going on, and then tell me whether or not I am answering them sufficiently.
I got a wonderful email back from her, saying all the things I needed to hear right now to give me the boost to keep on going. And I don't mean just unconditional praise such as you might get from your mum or husband, but useful positive criticism. From a very clever reader's perspective. She added, at the end, somewhat apologetically, that the new novel is more sophisticated and complex than The Sound of Butterflies ("not that there's anything wrong with The Sound of Butterflies," she said). And I wrote back and told her that in fact that was the highest praise she could give me, because any novelist's fear for their second book is that people will say "well it was OK, but it wasn't as good as her first one".
I'm looking forward to my writer-readers' feedback too, which will no doubt be more critical, but for now, Mary has given me the energy to keep going. You could say that she is that elusive 'perfect reader' I have in mind when I write my books. Now that she's given it the seal of approval, I can continue with confidence. Because sometimes a writer can't see the bloody wood for trees, and some outside help is what is needed. Thanks Mary.