The end of the beginning

So, it’s done. Not finished by a long chalk, but out of my hands for now. The first draft of my first novel has been titivated and combed, made broadly presentable, and sent out to four incredibly generous ‘readers’. They, I hope, will give me the first impartial assessment of the product of my last six months. It’s a nerve wracking thing. I wish I had managed it a month ago when I could have made a clever comparison to the feelings of a parent on little Johnny’s first day at infant school. But I didn’t, so nerve wracking will have to do.

The summer, the final push, was the difficult part. Until then, word count targets were easily hit, surpassed; characters made sense, the plot cohered; it felt good to be writing. By July, that breeziness was over and each writing day became ever more mired in self-doubt, frustration and failure. My least productive day, a net addition of 30 words after six hours of writing, felt as though the joyful charabanc of spring had not only run into the sand, but that the sand had completely clogged the engine, that every last moving part had now ground permanently into crusty rigidity. I no longer believed in any of the characters, but they still haunted me day and night, parading their unfinished forms, their irresolvable flaws. And the plot, the story I’d carried around with me for months before I ever started to write it, that too no longer made sense. Worse, I no longer cared.

I was stuck. Stuck seems a so much more accurate metaphor than blocked. The word conveys the feeling of gluey immobility. It wasn’t simply a matter of getting past an obstacle; absolutely everything was a weary struggle, and I was unwilling to fritter away a single written word on anything other than the novel. Stuck and faithless and clueless, and I really didn’t like it. They were difficult weeks, for me and for those around me. Specifically for K. I am seldom a ray of sunshine, but I was unusually irritable, withdrawn, and grouchy; had there been a dog, it might well have been kicked.

But I ground it out. Over the late August Bank Holiday weekend, I ‘finished’ it, ahead of my self-imposed deadline. Dogs were safe once more in my presence. There were some ‘continuity errors’ to resolve, some facts to check, but it was done, a first draft. I can’t remember feeling more proud of myself. Reading through, I quite liked it. Of course, there is still a great deal to do to make the writing really shine: this is only the end of the beginning. The first chapter, which I wrote in those bright and breezy freewheeling days of spring, is the least accomplished, and I will redraft it next week. The difficult chapters, hammered out in those oppressive August days, are actually my favourites, the most effective, the best written.

While the draft is being read, I have some time to think about what to do with it, what to do next. I’ve already started to sketch out another story: I woke up early yesterday and started to scribble out some pen portraits of some new characters, plotting their interactions and the events from which their imagined lives hang. But that’s for next week. I can hear the call of the park, dressed as it is in unseasonal sunshine, and don’t want to miss the last of summer.

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