Wednesday 2 September 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 34: “2nd draft is the hardest part?”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.

Since I was old enough to know what I was doing, I’ve felt a pull to create crazy stories set in fantastical worlds. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a pile of notebooks or folders lying around, stuffed full of notes, maps, characters designs, and plot ideas.

And it’s never gone away.

But one thing has never changed in all those years; 99% of my projects are in one of two stages - 1st draft, or barely written.

For a long time I struggled to get over the wall that was ‘endings’. I either lost interest in a story, got bogged down in early editing, or got proper stuck-in-the-mud. I had ‘beginnings’ coming out of my ears, but that was always as far as I got. Maybe the ‘middle’ every once in a while.

All that changed in 2007 when I not only crossed the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word finish line, but that draft have an actual ending, a hero into the sunset scene that left (almost) everything wrapped up.

Two years later I did it again. And the year after that. Short stories began to follow suit and soon I was sat on a pile of first drafts.

Time moved on and I started to feel good about myself taking writing more serious. I had managed to climb over that dreaded ‘Wall of 1st Draft’ and could carry on with my journey. But do you know what I saw once I passed that wall? Another damned wall, much bigger than the last. It was the much scarier ‘Wall of 2nd Draft’.

Up until that point, the one thing I’d been drumming into my head was just to ‘get the story written’. I had to stop stalling and get a story onto the paper. Everything else would just sort itself out, surely.

I’d learnt from fellow writers that the 1st draft didn’t need to be perfect, it just needed to be there for you to work with after you written that beautiful THE END.

But each time I finished that 1st draft, I would look at what I’d completed, think about what I needed to do to it to make it work, and become scared out of my mind. Because the first draft isn’t the hardest part of writing, of that I am no longer in any doubt. The hardest part is the 2nd draft; the fine tuning and definition of the project.

I’ve spent the last 18 months exploring and enjoying the style that is Flash Fiction. While a 100,000 word novel could take a decent author several months to edit into a respectable and sellable product, a 200 word piece of Flash Fiction can test an author for no more than a few hours.
I’ve learnt things about editing that you just don’t get from bigger projects. When you word count is so small and every word counts, you’re much harsher with that scalpel. Descriptions become shorter, dialogue becomes sharper. I’m hoping that I can take this thinking into the 2nd draft of CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE RISING DEAD.

Which brings me to this week’s piece of good news; I’ve actually sat down and started properly on the second draft. I’ve spent the last two months sifting through all that I wrote down in July’s CampNaNo, picking out the crap while polishing up the good stuff. Post-it notes of changes, note books full of more detailed character description. It all pushed things forward. But, as always, it turned out to be another stalling tactic. I was putting off the scary part of getting stuck back in.

The weekend just gone was busy, but on the wonderful Bank Holiday Monday, my beautiful and very patient wife suggested she take our son out for a little while to give me a bit of peace and quiet. Sometimes I wonder what I’d do without her.

So off they went and I closed the front door. The house was silent, the world so still. I set up the laptop, gathered my notes, laid out my pens, and focused extremely hard on escaping those dreaded demons of distraction. TV? Off. Phone? Silent. Internet? Only for research purposes. I opened up Scrivener, turned to the first page of the 1st draft . . . and began.

So far it’s going well. I’ve decided to go with the ‘start again’ approach, instead of trying to untangle the mess. Where stuff can remain, I will simply retype it as I go, perhaps tightening sentences here, and expanding the world there. I’ve already cut Chris’s point of view completely. I decided that it was messy having several scenes in the first third of the story switching between the two heroes. It caused too much to be explained to the reader too early, and became redundant once they both meet up. So the decision was made to make this story (and perhaps the rest of their adventures) drawn through Mike’s eyes. It makes sense, what with him being the ‘new’ bod to the world behind out world. His introduction to the strangeness becomes the readers parallel.

I’m hoping that things will get easier in future stories. Right now I have the added pain of world building. Things like Second Level and Ackworth Mental Institute show up in later stories, so I want to make them solid and functional. I have thirty three Chris And Mike stories done for Micro Bookends so far, and I know where things are going, which has me dropping little clues for all that the future stuff.

But the main thing is I’ve finally started a second draft of something bigger than just a short story. And while I’m not over that second wall just yet, I’ve started the climb, which is more than I’ve ever done before.

How about you guys? Which draft do you find the hardest? Are you still stuck looking up at that dreaded ‘Wall of 1st Draft’? Let me know your victories and defeats.

See you in seven.

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