When I wrote THE END on my second draft of Keepers, I cried. Just two tears mind, I am dead inside after all.
I cried because it was the end of more than just a marathon of RSI, obscenely late nights and incessant tapping that drove my wife to distraction. It felt like I had achieved my first real step towards freedom and the life I really want because a) I’d completed something real and tangible, all 72108 words were staring back at me like tiny dancing stick men.
And b) because I knew, this time, unlike my first draft, it wasn’t a total pile of turd.
After my two lonely tears rapidly dried up, I glanced at the clock on my laptop. The time blinked back at me, it read 1:04am. I’d sat and written 4025 words in the last 3.5 hours without moving. I was gobsmacked, that was four days worth of writing. In. One. Go.
Something told me to check the date. So I did. August 20th. I frowned. That rang a bell. I checked the post I wrote after completing my first draft. To my utter bewilderment, I completed my first draft the previous year on August 20th at 1:04am. If you don’t believe me, check the post.
It’s a beautiful thing, synchronicity. Perhaps I should publish it at 1:04am on the 20th August next year!
Here’s 13 things I learnt writing this draft.
THING ONE – EVERYTHING TAKES LONGER THAN YOU THINK
To say I was surprise I’d taken a year to finish another draft was an understatement. Fucking gutted is more like it.
I mean, if we’re going to get all motherboards and microchips technical about it, it took 5 months. I started the re-write in April, and I’ve written 48k since 1st July. But it took so long because I was doing an awful lot of
other important stuff faffing, starting other books, scratching my head, blogging, beasting myself in the gym, drinking wine, potty training and a bunch of other shit that wasn’t bum in chair smashing words out.
What did this teach me? It taught me that anything that isn’t progress towards your goal is a distraction. A year per draft is not satisfactory (for me), and I won’t let it happen again.
THING TWO – SUPPORT NETWORKS ARE EVERYTHING & NOTHING
There are four penrat writer monkeys who without which I couldn’t have got through the book. They listen to me drone on worst than moaning myrtle. They put up with my bullshit yo-yo’ing self-doubt and trust me I’m worse than an alcoholic rollercoaster.
I need them. Daily. Not always because I am down or fed up, sometimes to share in my literary orgasms as I kill another darling or add another twist.
BUT… That is where the support stops.
While we can prance around the virtual May Pole, braid each others hair and put wordy face masks on… they cannot write my book. They cannot put my pudgy fingerprints, on my superhero keys and make the sentences flow and they cannot force my butt in the chair.
If at the end of the year I haven’t finished my book, they are not to blame. I am.
Support is everything. It’s oxygen. Caffeine. Wine.
And it is nothing.
You are responsible for shaving fifteen minutes off housework, for asking hubby or wife to help so you can write. It is your choice to watch TV or socialise on lunch breaks, or go to the pub instead of work late into the night.
We all have 24 hours each day.
THING THREE – PUNCH RESISTANCE IN THE TIT AND WALK OFF
Which leads me to resistance. Everything that isn’t you making progress towards your goal is a distraction. It’s waste and according to Steven Pressfield, it’s resistance. If you haven’t read the War on Art, you should. It’s insightful and thought provoking. I read it in an hour or two the day after I finished the draft and it was enlightening to say the least.
Resistance is in essence, anything (including self doubt, procrastination, etc etc) that stops you working towards your goal.
His book is truth. It’s scary. And it’s frighteningly accurate.
“The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.” Steven Pressfield, War on Art p.18
Never a truer word spoke – the two weeks leading up to finishing this draft, I suffered extreme self-doubt. I was excruciatingly tired, I had back aches, neck aches and agonising pain in my knuckles from the typing. The day I finished, (with the exception of the tiredness), it all went away.
Resistance taught me who I am. I am grateful to Resistance because without it, I wouldn’t have realised that I am a fucking force. I am real. I am a writer. I will not be defeated. Resistance can do what it wants to me. It can hold a blood smeared knife to my throat, or poison my Sunday roast. I will never give up. I will kick Resistance in the testicles while I write one handed and throw up over the bog if necessary.
“The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she’s knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble. She harness the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.” Steven Pressfield, War on Art p.24
THING FOUR – TARGETS, ACCOUNTABILITY & TRACKING
My accountability partner is my hero. I’ve written about her and how having someone hold you to account, as well as setting targets is essential. You can read that here.
I set a date. Two in fact. One to finish this draft, one to finish the edits. Once I did that I worked backwards, setting daily and weekly targets. I know this doesn’t work for everyone. But for me, it is as essential as coffee, and coffee is life.
I track my word count and since having an accountability partner my daily word count has doubled.
The result? I finished my draft 5 days early.
THING FIVE – FUTURE ME IS AWESOME
We don’t all want to be held to account by someone else. Sometimes, all you need is a prod from yourself.
Futureme is an email system that you can use to email yourself at a specific time and date (of your choosing) in the future.
I set one up to email me during this draft and then forgot all about it. When it arrived, I had to smile. I’d said exactly what I needed to say to encourage me on.
SIX – DON’T SKIP PAST THE MAJOR EDITS
One of the major fuckups I made in the first draft was not to stop and go back and correct something when I realised I needed to make a SIGNIFICANT change.
ERROR, of the jumping out a plane and forgetting the parachute level of catastrophe.
Don’t be me. Don’t do that. Skipping past the chapters you need to rewrite because you change the male lead, or removed three characters entirely from the book is a fucking monstrous mistake.
I know when your all up in your computer screen and in the middle of an epic word-gush it’s more painful to stop than a syphilis ladened chilli in the eye. But seriously. You need to stop. It hurt me bad when I came back to edit. I won’t make that mistake again.
THING SEVEN – DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL WORDS – COMPLETING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PERFECTION
Buuuuuut you also don’t want to sweat the small shit. Can’t think of a word? Highlight it and move the fuck on. It will come to you. My novel is littered with highlights. Things where I know I have repeated a descriptive word because I couldn’t think of something else at the time.
Doesn’t matter. Just move on. You can fix it in the next edit. Completing a draft end to end is far more important than trying to get perfection in one draft. You can always read it again, or go through another round of edits.
“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It’s one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it…” Michael Crichton
THING EIGHT – TRUST EMERGENCE
And because I didn’t sweat the small stuff, I learnt to trust emergence. Sometimes, no matter what I did, I couldn’t figure out a twist, or the next scene. Instead of stressing, I just moved on to the following scene, or something else and worked on what I did know.
When I was changing a dirty nappy, shovelling crumb covered plates in the dishwasher or yawning at work, the answer would emerge from some crusty corner of my mind like the lost fiver you randomly find in an old pair of jeans.
You always find the answer, just not when you want it. Be patient.
THING NINE – NEVER TOO EARLY TO MARKET
It’s never too early to market. It’s never too early to read marketing books, to make plans, build an audience, establish connections, create a media kit or create an email list. I’ve written a lot about marketing recently. If you’re
an indie a writer, you will have to get comfy with marketing. If you put a book out there and ‘hope’ for the best, you ain’t guna sell shit. #truth.
Study marketing. Study hard. Try stuff. If it doesn’t work, analyse, tweak and try again. But don’t give up.
THING TEN – I CAN WRITE FASTER & STILL RETAIN QUALITY.
I was averaging 500 words a day, but after initiating my tracking sheet and being able to see my word count or lack of it, it pushed me to write faster and I started averaging a count of 1000 words a day. Some weeks I’d average 1500 or more a day and then I had a few random occasions, like the night I finished the book where I either had some kind of divine karmic intervention, or I’d taken writerly crack and wrote 4025 words in 3.5 hours. Not once did I lose quality.
Lesson? I need to make this a permanent change.
THING ELEVEN – NEVER STOP BEING A STUDENT
I made an arrogant mistake on my first draft. I thought I shouldn’t read in my genre while I was writing because I might sound like them. I know. I know, I know, lower your bloody eyebrow, I was a newbie. I knew shit.
This time I’ve continued to read in my genre and my writing is better for it. I made a conscious effort to deconstruct books in my genre to study what made them brilliant. Then I tried to apply those lessons to my own work. Surprise, surprise, I got better.
This post is longer than the one I wrote after completing my first draft, because I know more. No doubt that the post I write after the next draft will be longer still.
Actively study. Seek out knowledge like an addict searches for their smack. Make the time to study. Always. And you will always grow and develop.
THING TWELVE – NOTES NOTES NOTES
Thankfully, I have an obsession with notebooks. I collect them like a hoarder stores junk. Can’t help myself, whenever I see a nice one I HAVE to buy it!
That’s handy for me. One of the best things I did this time was write further editing notes as I went. Marking down (in chapter) any changes that need to be made, or continuity checks I need to do. This is vital, I still haven’t worked out a good method for tracking things like when key information is told or the times of day, but I will. I even wrote down words or metaphors I wanted to change it will help immeasurably as I start the next round of edits.
THING THIRTEEN – WIVES NEED ATTENTION
I said it last time, I’ll say it again. My wife needs love. I’m a bad spouse. I’ll do better next time!
What’s the best lesson you have learnt while working on drafts? Let me know in the comments.
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