Whilst I write this first draft, I feel old doubts and fears surfacing. The ones that make you want to delete everything or give it up, never write again. There are many fears that push at you, telling you that your writing is not good enough – why did you think you could do this again?
‘Writer’s Block’: Photography by Rachel Baran.
And when you read back over your first efforts, you can already see how much work you will need to do to make it shine. This is another thing to be scared of, that makes you think that perhaps you’re just not cut out for this writing thing – the editing looks like an insurmountable task.
‘Not beginning protects you from the disappointment – no, shame – of reading what you have written and finding it rubbish. It also prevents you from an equally disturbing possibility: discovering that you can write. What then have you been doing all these years? Success or failure can be avoided by never starting at all – this then is the spell that procrastination casts. How to step out from under it?’ – Jill Dawson,
I read a short essay in ‘Write’ by Guardian Books today (the essay by Jill Dawson, called ‘Getting Started’), that reminded me why I have to keep going. Yes, my first few chapters are more ‘meh’ than amazing. No doubt I will have to scrape all the clichés off the page with a metaphorical spade. My dialogue may be a bit stilted and I still can’t quite get into the head of one of my characters, but at the end of the day, I do have their voices in my head. They are alive even when I shut the laptop at the end of each writing session.
I keep going over different problems of plotting, voice and characterisation in my head, and find myself making notes. I bought The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus in anticipation of developing my character profiles. I am finally in a place where I feel excited about writing a story again. It isn’t the fragile little excitement it was a few months ago – it is the full-on kind, where I want to see this story to the end.
The point is, all first drafts are the scaffolding of a novel. They are like lumps of clay, that need to be shaped into something recognisable, beautiful and colourful. It’s not going to be easy to shape that clay, but for the first draft, you just get that stuff onto the screen or paper, and just keep going. You just start writing. I’m plotting as I go, and taking breaks to develop my character profiles and figure out who the villains are and which scenes are going to need adding to and developing, but that’s part of the fun and the journey.
‘Whatever your level of experience, writing a novel usually feels like a series of false starts. When we begin the voice sounds wrong, the characters don’t ‘come through’, the tone is wrong, even the year and the place you’ve put them in feels wrong. But how can you, the writer, know these things, see them, until you’ve put words on the page, taken a look at them?’ – Jill Dawson.
I might regret not being a ‘planner’ but I’m not doing too badly writing as I go. I found that over-planning takes some of the surprises away, where you characters do something that you didn’t expect them to do, and it makes the whole thing more immersive for me. And whilst some aspects of the novel need developing, like the world-rules and structure, the plot is being driven so far by the characters. To me, that is a sign that I shouldn’t give up, simply because these characters have been given a voice. It would seem disloyal to simply give up and leave them where they are.
So my advice is simply: keep going. Keep going for the love of it, and if the first few chapters need work – that’s good, that’s the point. All first drafts need work – the job of writing is to shape that clay when it’s all down on the page. It might even be fun – and you’ll get to add things and take them away, or make things stronger and more interesting. Use the first draft to put all your ideas down and get into the heads of your characters. Use it to construct the scaffolding of your plot. Be kind to yourself – it’s the beginning.
‘The first little throb turns into a steady pulse, a heartbeat, the tapping of keys. It’s an austere and repetitive service, the writing of a novel. But, of course, there is joy too.’ – Jill Dawson.