Back in the Saddle

It has been, as they say, a long time between drinks.

So long, in fact, I’ve gone beyond parched and am rapidly approaching shrivelled, dried and the merest touch could see me crumble away. But now I’m just being melodramatic.

I don’t really know why I stopped blogging regularly. Life happened. I followed other creative pursuits, like knitting my husband a sweater and there was, of course, the small matter of the manuscript. The rewriting, the editing, the coming to grips with the rewriting and the editing. The realisation that as hard and challenging as the first draft was, it was nowhere near as hard as the rewriting and editing.

The first draft was like the drawing of young child. Free, liberated, unconstrained – except by my own doubts – it could flow where it wanted to and I was happy to follow it. Now my wonderfully free-spirited child has to be disciplined to suit the genre, the publishable, the marketable qualities that are needed to move my manuscript from being a long held, quietly nurtured dream, into a fully formed reality.

It’s not easy.

My first edit which was meant to see about 20,000 words cut from the 105, 612 I’d written, resulted in about 3,000 words hitting the cutting room floor. And I realised just how brutal I was going to need to be. All those words I’d fought for, gazed out of windows searching for, got up in the middle night to jot down before I forgot them, they needed to go.  Anyone who’s ever been to a writing workshop will be familiar with the term ‘killing your darlings’, and that is what it feels like  and for me it is accompanied with a fear that these may be the only words I ever had. That new words won’t form, find me on the ferry, seek me out in the hushed quiet of the sleeping house or flow from my pen at the State Library. The fear is not so much that I only have one good book in me, but, that maybe, I only have one good draft.

But cutting 20,000 words isn’t enough. I need to lose more because there will be new words to add, characters to flesh out, new scenarios to create. Then there will be the  seamless weaving in of the new with the old. At least that’s the goal.

I’m currently on draft number four. How many more I’ll need to work through I have no idea. But I remember the words of author Pamela Freeman – ‘You will only ever be as good a writer as the number of drafts you are prepared to do.’ And I think I am only now beginning to fully appreciate just what she was trying to tell the wide-eyed group of writers, hanging on her words at one of those writing workshops.

6 thoughts on “Back in the Saddle

  1. Life has happened to me lately too. No matter. An occasional blog post is enough, don’t you think? The blog must work for you, not the other way round…

    I was hanging on every one of your “little darlings”…It’s a world I know nothing about (the whole drafting process) so it was great to get an insight into your process. Keep it up, you are on your way!

    Look forward to hearing more from you and I WILL buy a copy of your novel when it comes out. You can hold me to that.

    • Thanks, Gill. Yes I agree completely with the blogging working for you & not the other way round.It’s great that some people can do the daily or three-weekly post, but it’s a bit much for me at the moment.
      And I will definitely keep you updated with my progress – slow though it might be!
      Jennifer x

  2. Dear Jennifer

    How exciting to know that someone remembers what I say! As for the idea that you have only one good draft in you – piffle and nonsense!

    Look at the paragraph in your post which starts ‘My first edit’. The person who wrote that par will write many, many stories. Lay that fear aside. We all have it, but we must learn to ignore it.

    To find your 20 000 words, try listing all your scenes, then ask yourself: does this scene contribute directly to the outcome (that is, the climax and resolution)? If it does, ask: does ALL of this scene contribute?

    The best place to cut is often between half way and two-thirds through the ms; for some reason, that’s where writers often go astray and get distracted from the main story.

    good luck!

    • Hi Pamela,
      Of course I remember what you said! And I still refer to your written notes on the back of my first 5,000 words.
      Thank-you so much for taking the time to comment on my post, it’s very much appreciated. It’s incredibly generous of you to be so encouraging of another writer. Your advice is great & I’ll certainly be using it.
      I hope that one day I have the pleasure of inviting you to my book launch!

  3. So interesting to get an insight into the hard labour as well as the craft of novel writing. Oh I am glad to be a keen reader, the enjoyer of the relentless work. Keep going… I need a new book… will have to wait for yours, but am off to Amazon now to look for another Kate Morton I think.

    Would love to hear whether you send each draft off to agent/publisher, or are these drafts that you work on yourself until you have done all the changes suggested??

    • Hi Seana,
      No, each draft doesn’t go back to the agent/publisher. That would drive them mad! I received feedback from an agent, most of which was the same as my own gut instincts about the story, so I’m trying to work with that.Some drafts have a different purpose – so one might be a cutting & burning exercise, one might be a finessing exercise some are about the characters. When I feel it is as good as I can make it, then it will head off to the agent again & hopefully to the publisher who will then send me a list of their requested edits & the process starts again! And if I get to that point, there will be champagne popping!
      Enjoy your next novel,

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