Revising the First Draft

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It’s been a little while since my last post, so a quick update. I finished the first draft about three weeks ago, and I wanted to put it aside, so that I could look at it with fresh eyes. Why? Well, mainly because all the blogs which I am reading about how to write a novel suggested that I do this. In fact, most of them suggested that I wait much longer than two weeks, some even suggesting that I put it away for the better part of a year before taking it out to look at it. Well, I’m not working to that kind of schedule, and, quite frankly, I doubt my ability to pick up a work that I left behind a year ago and still muster some enthusiasm over it, so two weeks seemed more realistic.

Even so, it was really difficult. I found that it was very difficult to turn off thinking about my book even for such a short time. My mind would keep returning to it. And worse, without actually being able to work on it, I found that my doubts about the story grew at an alarming rate, flourishing like weeds in a badly tended garden, since I wasn’t there every day, hoeing away to keep them down. By the time I returned to my manuscript, I have to report, my confidence about the story and the project in general was much, much lower than it had been when I left it. Funnily enough, although I was itching with impatience for the whole of those two weeks to get back to my manuscript, when I did actually come to pick it up again, I was almost too terrified to look at it. The lesson I take from this is that it is better to get on with a difficult job (such as your first novel) and not think about it too much. Or, as the worldly philosopher Balthasar Gracian puts it:

“Attempt easy tasks as if they were difficult, and difficult as if they were easy; in the one case that confidence may not fall asleep, in the other that it may not be dismayed.”

I think that one could accurately describe my mindset at the start of the rereading process as “dismayed”.

Here is what I have done so far:

Firstly, I have read my manuscript through, start to finish, only pausing to make very general observations. It is clear to me that, structurally, there are massive problems with the story. I will need to fix these first.

For this purpose, I have purchased a set of record cards, on which I have written each scene of the novel. That way, I am able to lay the whole book out in front of me so that I can see the plot at a glance, as it were. The advantage of this system is that I can easily remove or add scenes (by removing or adding record cards as necessary). I can also move existing scenes around, if I think that they fit in better in another part of the book.

The other observation I have to make at this stage, is that a lot of what I have already written is going to be wasted, because I will have to throw it out, as it is not good enough. That either means that my standards are too high, or that there is something wrong with my process. The thing is, when I started writing this book, I only wanted it to be good enough, not spectacular. But now that I am in the middle of it, I am loathe to just let bad structure and ideas just sit there, when I could do something about them. So, I am thinking, not for the first time, that more work at planning stage would have helped.

It certainly feels that I am making every mistake in the book (apt expression) when attempting this challenge. I am just hoping that I am at least learning from this process so that I can improve next time. For, as Gracian also says:

“Great ability develops and reveals itself increasingly with every new assignment.”

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One thought on “Revising the First Draft

  1. I found that there are always stages but at the time you don’t really know it. The mistakes are important as they propel you to make the story better, I believe. I have lost count of how many drafts I have completed and have left mine for a month at a time. But when I look back at what I had a year ago, it’s very, very different. I would suggest you get someone to read it too for their honest perspective . . . but choose your reader wisely.

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