Heavy Engineering

In the few moments I get in a day (usually whilst Emily is napping and Lucy is being entertained by a DVD… one thing is for sure, this writing malarky isn’t going to win me the Mother of the Year award!!), I devote them to my novel. Well, okay, my story. I always feel like I’m being a bit pretentious when I call it ‘my novel’ (a bit like when I say  ‘I’m an artist’… nooo, I’m just some one with a skimpy armour fetish who plays way too much D&D!), but, well, that’s what I want it to be, so that’s what I will refer to it as.

The other day, I was re-writing chapter 11 (it needed splitting, and then I needed to re-write the content so it fit in with my other re-writes) and I had a fretty moment where I wondered ‘am I re-writing too much of this?!’ followed by ‘Oh, Dear Lord, this first draft is SHIT!’. Now, I’ve mentioned before how crappy my  first draft is, and I think it bears repeating – My first draft is crap. Bollocks. Terrible.

And the chances are yours is, too.

‘Ooo, way to make assumptions, you pretentious bitch!’ I hear you cry. ‘How dare you say that about my precious baby? I’m the new Tolkien / Rowling / Hemmingway / Dickens (or insert your own author in there – me, I’m going with Gaiman. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love Gaiman… ^^D), don’t you know!’. Well, you very well may be right. But the chances are, you’re going to have to do some heavy engineering in order to get there.

I’m in the thick of my heavy engineering. I’ve completely re-written the middle section, I’ve swapped chapters 4-8 around allow for the same events to happen, but in a different order. I’ve taken out 5 chapters and completely re-written them to allow for the chapter swap and have taken one character and given him a new, more central role. I sitll need to write more of him in.  I’m currently planning my assault on the end of the middle section, where I am adding in a new dimension, taking out another, bringing my two MCs a little closer together (they were more hostile to each other at this point in the first draft), breaking chapter 16 up so the end happens later on in the story… I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

It’s a lot of work. And it’s very daunting. But, now I’m getting on with it, I’ve discovered a very curious thing. As daunting, frustrating and time consuming this is, it’s also quite a lot of fun. One thing doing heavy engineering has taught me is that whilst every word you write for your story won’t end up in the final draft, they aren’t words wasted. They allow you to experiment, explore and develop. In short, you learn, not just about the story and its inhabitants, but a lot about yourself and how you work. What your crutch phrases are (more about them in another blog!), what situations you lean on, what your ‘word bank’ is. Amongst other things (I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve sat there, my head in my hands, thinking ‘Jesus, Claire – what were you thinking? I mean, *really*?!?’).

The thing is, don’t be afraid of the heavy engineering stage. It’s hard work, but I’m finding that it is more rewarding than writing the first draft. The first draft was fun in a ‘whirlwind of creativity’ kind of way, but this is more rewarding, because now I’m learning. ‘Cos you may well write your million words, but if you don’t go back and challenge ’em, and make ’em sit up and dance, they may as well be random marks on a piece of paper.

Keeping writing, peeps!

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So Tired, I Can’t Even Think Of A Title

So that’ll have to do.

When I first planned to start this blog, I thought I’d start it in January. But I didn’t.  The reason is small, cute and sitting next to me: my 7 month old daughter, Emily.

I have two daughters. Lucy is three, and full of the joys of being three (random weird requests, tantrums and odd questions as  standard), but at least she sleeps. My youngest daughter, however, has never slept a full night. We’re talking 7 and a half months (more, if you count those last few ‘I am the size of a whale’ weeks of pregnancy, especially when you’re two weeks overdue) of broken nights. And it’s taking its toll.

But this isn’t a blog about how tired I am. It isn’t a blog about how I could quite possibly stomp on baby rabbits if it meant I got a full night’s sleep. It isn’t even a blog about how hard it is to write when you’re this tired. It’s a short (for me) blog about how to keep your perspective when life gives you lemons.

Obviously, Emily isn’t a lemon, but she is a voracious sleep-vampire, and one of the things I am painfully aware of is how little progress I am making in terms of re-writing my novel. I’d planned to get the whole thing done during my maternity leave, y’see.  But Emily has other thoughts. (As it is, both my kids are sitting next to me as I type this. Lucy is pretending to read The Hunger Games, and Emily is trying to bash the keyboard as I type. This kind of sums them both up in a nutshell, really!). And, until recently, I was feeling quite down in the dumps about it all.

Then a wise lady said to me: ‘Look at what you have achieved – not what you have yet to do’ (or words to that effect). And, you know what? She’s right. Okay, so I haven’t achieved my ultimate goal of finishing this re-write – but given the circumstances, it’s a bloody miracle I’ve achieved anything at all!

So, here’s the message: When life gives you lemons, don’t beat yourself up about what you haven’t done. Just look at what you have done, and pat yourself on the back that even though times are hard, you’ve managed something – even if it is just scribbling down an idea you had whilst washing up, or a plot breakthrough you had whilst browsing the aisles of your local supermarket. You don’t have to write reams and reams of words to be working on your draft – just allowing yourself daydreaming time to think through issues with your plot / characters / specific chapter can count. Only this morning, whilst making porridge for my girls, did I come up with a solution to a small plot-problem that had been niggling away at the back of my mind. Tick! It was only 8am, and I’ve already achieved something, just by stirring porridge.

What was I thinking?!

Ever had one of these moments?

Yep, it’s the famous Picard facepalm, and I had a major one this morning.

Y’see, someone read the second chapter of my novel and managed to figure out in the time it took to read the chapter and critique it something that I failed to see in almost 2 years of writing, revising, rewriting and editing.

I can’t help but feel like a total idiot (hence Picard up there) – but at the same time,  it feels great to finally know what it is that has been bugging me all this time. But this leads to a big problem. I have a feeling this issue is pretty much endemic throughout the novel (I won’t bore you with the details), and it’s made me realise something. The novel that consumed my life – made me giggle, made me cry, made me go all fluttery –  is a bit crap. in fact, it’s more than a bit crap – it’s a lot crap.

But you know what? I think I’m all right with that.

Yes, it means a lot of work from now on in, and no, I have no idea where I am going to find the time or the energy to actually undertake the overhaul this story needs (as I type, I am sitting on the floor with the laptop on the sofa; my 7 month old is rolling around in my lap trying to crawl (she hasn’t quite mastered it yet) and my 3 year old is sitting on my feet, playing with her dinosaurs) – but I am pretty pleased – and yes, proud – that I haven’t just dissolved into tears at the thought of all that time wasted.

Because it isn’t time wasted – it’s time served in an apprenticeship with a very steep learning curve. So, everyone out there sitting and despairing at how crappy their first draft is – you’re not alone. If you’re in danger of every single red pen in your house running out due to the amount of changes you’ve had to  pencil in – you’re not alone. If you’re staring at the screen, despairing over the sheer amount of work you have to do – you’re most definitely not alone.

But saying that – celebrate that crappy first draft! Because, after all, every diamond begins as just a big old lump of rock, and if no one dug up big old rocks, there wouldn’t be any diamonds in the world.

(Note – optimism subject to change depending on chocolate levels and time of day…)

And from the swirling darkness…

… a figure appears.

Yep, I’ve decided to join the masses and start a blog! Which is very exciting for me, if not for you (well, yet, anyway. I’m hoping it will be, if not exciting, then at least interesting and possibly informative). Since this is my first entry, I guess I’d better introduce myself. My name is Claire (my online handle is Elysia, after an ages-old roleplaying character of mine) and I am a writer, an artist, a mother, a wife, a teacher… many different things, really. But for the purposes of this blog, let’s concentrate on the writing and the artwork (and how to juggle them (or not) when you’ve got two ankle-biters hanging off you and you work a stressful job).

I am currently revising my first proper novel – a fantasy rather tentatively entitled Dragonsoul. I also write Lovecraftian short stories and novella length tales. I am as yet unpublished, but I am seeking to remedy that this year – in 2012, I am hoping the stars are indeed right! (Well, I’ve got to get myself out there before the Great Renewal, don’t I?). I am still learning how this blog-malarkey works, so bear with me and expect changes whilst I play with things… I am aiming to update weekly (sanity permitting, of course), so I’ll, err, see you then.

Good writing,

Claire