Fighting that 2nd draft

I’m working on the second draft of my novel and after 3 months, I’m starting to enjoy it. I finished the first draft in July, after spending about 18 months on the first draft, most of which was written frantically last summer.

I gave myself some time away from it before starting the next draft so that I’d come to it with fresh perspective, but after reading over the early chapters it felt like I was looking at a stretch in a Siberian salt mine.

What I was reading in the early chapters of the first draft was making me wince, and I’d reached a point where I knew my sub-plot wasn’t going the way I wanted to – I’d need to start taking a knife to some of that work. Butchering hours of your own hard labour, snatching away all the hard fought words. You do the crime, you do the time.

It wasn’t wasted time though, I like to think of that non-writing time as time letting the story ruminate.Some days I was totally baffled by the way I’d written the story. Eventually, I sat down and realised I’m stuck with this story whether I like it or not, so it might as well have a more eloquent and concise existence.

I wanted to do a bit of research though, before starting.

On the internet you can find countless blogs and help for general writing tips, or about character development, ‘writing your world’  and how to build your story – especially at the moment with NaNoWriMo on second drafts, when it’s done but not finished.

I mean, you’ve brain dumped 80,000 words on to a bunch of Word documents, and now you’ve got to go through and make sure your story is tight as a gnat’s sphincter. Cut the chat.

Two that I found really useful as a general and more specific guide to writing can be found here and here.

The first one is about editing generally, the latter is all about that first re-write. If you’re rewriting in any way, I’d really recommend reading them – they’re well-written, enlightening and funny.

What’d forgotten to do in the meantime, while I was doing all this mulling over, was to read a book. My fiction reading time has been eaten into by the avalanche of material presented by social media and that life/existence thing – I’d forgotten to fall in love with a piece of writing. To read something great – or even something awful, to recognise the inimitable limits or ambitions of the written word.

So, I thought I’d read a great story while reading about writing. A book that I’ve been meaning to read for ages and which, coincidentally, I’ve seen mentioned a lot recently is Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ – I book I’d been meaning to read for many a moon too, and it goes without saying (and I’m saying it) it’s brilliant. Part-memoir, part-writing boot camp it is unputdownable and as insightful as you’d expect from someone who has sold a gazillion books and knows a trick or two about story-telling.

Being one of those wanky Literature graduates, I don’t really think of King as being an influence as a writer but when I think back, sure enough, I read a lot of his short stories as a 13-year old kid. My trips to the library on Thursday after school to get a fresh batch of reading material would be exciting, blissful. Skeleton Crew by King is one of the best collections of short stories I’ve read. Looking back I think that I got the same pleasure from the library as most other kids did from visiting the video shop.

Stephen King invited me to worlds that I’d never dreamed of at an age when my imagination needed to stretch and feed, and so who better to guide me further along my chosen path?

Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing – of being flattened, in fact -is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you. – Stephen King

I should have written down some of King’s more sage advice while reading, but one thing that sticks out and has stuck out while writing is King’s insistence to cut anything that doesn’t add anything to your story. Here is but one nugget of the goldmine that King offers in On Writing:

After reading that, I feel like I’m reading the novel from a new perspective. I’ve cut out nearly 5,000 words in a matter of a few chapters – and you know what?  The story is still there and now the writing is much tighter.

You only realise how much shit you’ve written when you have to analyse your first draft. Be brave! Cut, cut, and cut some more!





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