Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Deadlines. And a few ramblings about technique.

I have a self-imposed deadline of August to finish my new novel. That gives me five months to finish the first draft (25% to go) and whip it into shape. It's a very real deadline. I have something else on from the end of August that will stop me writing for quite some time and I just won't allow myself to not finish it by then.

But it is putting the pressure on. When I think about five months, it seems like a long time, but I know how fast that can travel. But then again, if I look at it practically, it took me only four months from finishing the first draft of The Sound of Butterflies to submitting it and having it accepted by an agent in the UK and a publisher in New Zealand. My writing is much more confident and stream-lined now, so the new draft is a) shorter and b)more polished than TSOB was at this stage.

I talked a long time ago about my decision to try out the shitty first draft technique on this novel, but I abandoned that along the way. You see, I need to feel that I am in control in order to move forward, and that meant going back over the early chapters until the voice was right and until they pointed me in the right direction of where to go next. I also need to feel in love with my book to be excited enough to keep going, and a shitty draft isn't going to generate that love. So even though I'm calling it my 'first draft', my chapter one has gone through six drafts, my chapter two four drafts etc.

I gave a small talk at the Hagley Writers' Institute, where I will be supervising a few students this year. I read from my new novel, which felt really good. Reading it out loud enabled me to hear it with fresh ears and I liked what I heard (you can probably tell I'm going through a bit of a romantic phase with my novel - in all likelihood we will be fighting and/or not speaking to each other in a couple of weeks). It also reminded me how valuable reading your work aloud to yourself is. I did a practice run the day before for timing, and it helped me make a few adjustments to sentences that didn't flow, to trim them a bit and to work on the cadence of the language, which is very important to me: I do not believe in just delivering information in the most economical number of words; they have to sound right. I read the entire manuscript of The Sound of Butterflies aloud to myself for the very final draft. It took me about a week, from memory. A daunting but very valuable exercise, which I recommend to anyone on the verge of finishing their novels. It helps you pick up all sorts of gremlins.

But back to Hagley - one of the students asked the assembled supervisors (an illustrious group: Charlotte Randall, Frankie McMillan, whose reading of a short story had me enthralled, and Jeffrey Paparoa Holman) about how much they plan their work before writing. Charlotte Randall says she doesn't plan hers at all, she just starts writing, although she often writes the last page first so she has something to work towards. Frankie said she writes a draft from start to finish, but she writes short stories, which is a bit different to writing a novel. I gave contradictory answers really. I plan bits. Then I unplan. One novel I nearly wrote I think I planned too much and it froze me. I realised that the students were listening eagerly to see how much planning they should do, but in the end I had to confess that it works differently for everyone and the only way to find out what works for you is to write a novel. I learned more about writing a novel by actually writing one than I could have from any number of classes or how-to books and blogs. That first novel was never published, but it didn't need to be - it served its purpose, which was to teach me how to write a novel.

I spent the weekend in Welllington where I had an absolute ball, catching up with good friends, attending one of the best weddings I've ever been to (and probably ever will) and meeting with my writing group. It was perfect really. My writing group gave me wonderful advice and encouragement and I wished I could explain to them what I was trying to achieve without spoiling all the surprises in the book. At the moment, if it works, it will be the kind of book that you need to read all the way to the end to see how everything that has come before falls into place. If it works.

So this deadline has put a fire under me, and as a result I think my blog is going to suffer a bit. But then I hope I can be back with posts about the process of getting one's second book published, which I hope will be useful to some.



Andrea Eames said...

I'm glad things are going well, and August and beyond will be very exciting, I know. :) Good that you could catch up with your writing group in person too - yay! I'm halfway through composing a post for tomorrow about how isolated and adrift I'm feeling without such a group to connect with. Small boat on big ocean. Small boat with a leak.

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to give up on seeing you here for the pay off of reading your novel sooner. Wishing you long hours of uninterrupted time to write.

Laini Taylor said...

It sounds like we have so much the same psyche when it comes to first drafts. I have to plan, and then force myself to take short creative bursts forward to try to make fresh discoveries, at which time I will revert to the comfort of planning. I too have ruined a book by over-planning, though hopefully I will come back to that one some day.

As for August, I hope that your, um, *new endeavor* is progressing perfectly and that you are peppy and well. Doing great here, and just as eager as you are to finish the current book on a deadline, but more like July in my case. I wonder, though. Sometimes it seems highly unlikely :-(

I'll do my best!

Maggie May said...

Oh dear it was wonderful to read about your experiences working through your novel. I'm writing my second, and my kids and husband and work have all taken over lately to sucha degree that when I have time to write (like now) I feel too tired and uninspired to do so.

I really enjoyed browsing your blog and will definitely be back.

Rachael King said...

Thanks for visiting and commenting Maggie May. I'll try and keep the blog up to give you something new to read!