I was at Varuna The Writer’s House for a week and could not bring my thoughts together enough to write a blog post last weekend, and besides, was busy writing other words. The trip was to attend a masterclass. I paid to stay there and I took a week’s leave without pay. With flights, trains, additional accommodation and all other things that happen when we leave our houses, it was an expensive exercise. And, it was a lesson from the writing universe and when I say ‘lesson’ I mean ‘a slap upside the head’.
Let me skip to the end with the good news. I’ve just today met with my wonderful writing partner and she read a new piece of work and exclaimed it ‘mature’ and ‘brilliant’ and I was so relieved but also I knew I was on to something because Varuna is nothing if it is not a place to make writers. As painful as that ‘making’ may be.
And, okay, perhaps I was a tad presumptuous to think that I would go there, have a delightful week of writing and walking and talking about writing and books and words. I can’t say it wasn’t that but it was more difficult than that.
But what is writing if it is not difficult?
Just before I left for Varuna I started a new project. This wasn’t an idea or a scene or a character, it was a full, complete novel idea. I just went with it even though it seemed to be taking me away from the novel I’ve been working on for the past two years because, I reasoned, words are words.
What I came away from Varuna with was a fierce belief in this new project (which, turns out isn’t that far away from my previous project) and words have been tumbling out of me ever since. I’m slightly concerned I am just a ‘first-drafter’ (is there such a type of writer?) and will never move beyond that, but at this point there is nothing to do but go with it.
So, in the interests of first drafters everywhere, I thought I’d explain a little about how I’m going about this.
One. I’m writing everyday. I have a goal of 1000 words and at this point it is easy to reach this in 45mins or so. I used to write 600-700 word scenes but I now find they are generally around 1000 or are made up of two 1000 halves. Either way, 1000 words is a bit like a 30min walk for me: my day feels weird without it.
Two. I keep a tally. I have a calendar under my keyboard and every day I write down the total words I’ve written. I’ve been doing this for years. Since July 16 my totals are (with some days missing due to the mini breakdown at Varuna):
Three. I pre-fill in my scenes in Scrivener so I have something to write. And I leave the next to write scene open on my screen when I go to bed so I get straight to work when I get up in the morning.
Four. I have written a full synopsis. I am a planner because I find it torturous to think of endings and I know I need to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there and everything in between. There is much to allow the muse to create as I go (and the magic in that is a joy) but I have to have a plan.
Five. I have a set of rules for myself that sit on my desk and, hopefully, save me from straying too much into over-written, irrelevant codswallop (though there is still plenty of ordinary codswallop).
Six. I STAY AWAY FROM THE OPENING OF THE NOVEL. That is to say I have written an opening but I already know it isn’t the actual opening but I am literally banning myself from going back there even though I desperately want to (because playing with opening scenes is one of my most favourite things). STEP AWAY FROM THE OPENING.
Seven. I enjoy myself. Today I wrote a scene that was a delight and I’m still on a high from that. I’m stopping myself going back to write more now because I want to have this feeling when I come to it tomorrow morning.
Eight. I try not to get ahead of myself. I write my 1000 words. If I feel like writing more, I generally don’t, even if I have time and ideas.
Nine. My notebooks are completely unorganised but an essential part of the process. I usually come up with ideas or plot fixers or character traits or whatnot while driving to or from work, or while watching TV at night. Notebooks are essential.
Ten. I keep going.
I’d love to hear how you draft!