How do you measure a year?
Other than book reviews, I haven’t written a blog post since April, when I finished the first draft of my historical fiction novel. But that’s not to say my writing has taken a break, and – as we’re nearing the end of the year – I feel compelled to reflect on what I’ve learned through this year of ups and downs .
I was clear in my mind that the first draft of my novel was indeed absolute rubbish. It lacked depth of characters and scenes, there was a lot going on but it didn’t always make sense, and the prose style varied from one page to the next. In short, the quality of my writing required considerable improvement. I’d written in a previous blog how much I’d enjoyed an online writing course earlier in the year, and with this in mind, I signed up to three more courses: a short story course, a university summer school, and an advanced creative writing course. The short story one was tough because it forced me to write a story every week that was good enough for peer review. The summer school was demanding because I was writing under pressure and submitting something every day for two weeks. And the advanced course was challenging because my prose was under scrutiny for structure, thematic development, complex plotting and points of view.
What if ... there was no chance in hell that my writing would ever improve?
That was all good, but actual progress with my novel slowed down considerably, not helped by other matters that got in the way, sometimes known as Life. On the one hand, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into my novel again, but on the other – I was dreading it. What if I had nothing left to add to the book? What if these courses had been a complete waste of time and money? What if – and this is the real question – there was no chance in hell that my writing would ever improve? Ever.
There was only one way to find out. I clicked on Scrivener and waited for my book to load. There it was, all the scenes grouped in neat little chapters waiting for me to work some kind of magic and turn Cinderella into the belle of the ball. The first thing I did was to remove all the chapter groupings: no point being constrained by imaginary walls. That helped. The next thing was to remind myself of the theme (material success is worthless without a meaningful life); the protagonist’s inner desire (protect emotions); and his outer goal (success and status). I printed the theme and desires on A4 sheets of paper and stuck them to the window above my desk. At least when I found myself staring out of the window, I was in fact just staring at my own notes.
Starting from page one, I began to rewrite and soon realised – wait, there’s a scene missing here; and another one here; and this one says nothing at all; and this one really needs to go; and I wonder what would happen if this was a letter instead of boring exposition; and what if that character was more of a shapeshifter than an ally; and oh lordy, before I knew it, I was at the end of Act One. Phew!
...then it's back to the beginning again...
I’ve been reading some of the new scenes out to my husband. He seems to think I’ve come along leaps and bounds, but then he would say that wouldn’t he? But do you know what? I do think I may have made some progress. I’m not saying it’s a literary work of art, but I think the learning and the reading and the writing and those life moments and of course all that sub-conscious processing of ideas have helped. I’m excited about revisiting Act Two and Three in the New Year. Oh, and then it’s back to the beginning again for drafts two, three, four and five. Roll on, 2019…