Time has been misbehaving this year. Or maybe it’s just me. I’ve certainly noticed it’s been toying with me, especially since the beginning of March. I had gone into Christmas last year feeling quietly confident about the draft of the novel I’d been working on for all of 2016. It felt like it was meant to be something special. A novel that was about something worthwhile. Social commentary was new to me, but I was giving it a go. I just needed to hack the first draft into a tighter version of itself. Hone the edges, kick the tires. It felt like it was going to be pretty simple.
I wrote a ghost story for Christmas, took a break until the new year and then sat down in early January to get on with the second full draft. Only, as I read over the first one again, I began to understand just how much work was needed. Whole sections needing overhauling far more than I had realised. I’d rushed the ending to the point of over cranking the camera. Plot twists and character’s motivations seemed to break apart at the logic barrier and disappear in a blur of speed lines and poorly descriptive prose. It was terrible. Not only that, but the problems I was trying to comment on were getting worse in real life. They were overtaking my own ideas. I needed to find a better way to start the thing and a better story arc to get those characters where I needed them to be for the ending I had in my head.
I spent all of January and February locked in a spiralling hell of restarts and angry notes. Every moment I thought I’d cracked it turned out just to be another false start. Every moment I felt like I was getting somewhere, barely got me to the end of that week. I was walking over a carpet of writhing loose threads and cracking thin ice. I was rewriting the same opening passages over and over again. I went over them so many times that they started to feel like a symptom of madness. By the end of February, I hated that story. Worse, I was sure it hated me. It didn’t even feel like I had come up with it anymore. By that point it felt far more plausible that it had been put on my laptop to torment me, to stop me from ever finishing another story.
It took until the first of March for my brain to send me a life raft. Perhaps it finally took pity on me. Or perhaps it took those seemingly endless eight weeks for me to get something past all the roadblocks I had built in my head. I’d had plenty of half formed ideas before then, but they had felt like mirages. Distractions. This one was different. It was a breadcrumb trail. A fairly bold image that suggested I might find a story if I followed it. It wasn’t anything overly complex. It wasn’t desperately striving to stand apart from the crowd or, let’s be honest, show off. No, this one was interesting. A good, strong story with a clear through line to a grim ending. A tormented character with the potential to hook a reader. It played with genre expectations without needing to shout for attention. I really liked it. I liked it so much that I could finally cast the dinosaur off my shoulders.
The first draft took me just over a month, which is unheard of for me. Granted, just the freedom of telling another story felt fantastic. It was a breath of tantalising fresh air. Pretty much everything else went on hold. You might have noticed the poems and story samples on the website dried up as I powered into that first draft. I wasn’t worrying about how quickly the days were going by. I wasn’t worrying about the other idea I’d left for dead. I just wanted to know that this story could work as well as I thought it could. Once I got to the end, I sat back and felt good about it. Until the doubts began to crawl back into place.
The weeks between mid April and late May turned on me. The days seemed to drag their heels as I began to realise the work that was required to get this new idea into shape. Not that work was a bad thing. I was just gun shy and paranoid about taking another idea to task. After all, it hadn’t gone so well for me last time. Every change I needed to put in, made me hesitate. Even if it felt like it was the right thing to do, I panicked about pulling the loose thread and toppling my new tower. Most of them were to keep the pace flowing freely or improve the characters. It became a weekly game of two steps forward, one step back. The few times I trusted a change, I still had to keep all the old work in a file, just in case. I was writing with a mild form of hording.
If the days were slow, then the weeks were fast. Incredibly fast. Sitting at my desk at work, I would catch myself looking at the calendar over and over again. June, in particular, I could feel myself starting to worry. I could hear the calendar ticking. I was nearly halfway through the year with nothing to show for it. The whole creative process of writing, the one I want to spend my life exploring, had turned on me. I had lost my faith in it. To a certain extent, I guess I had lost faith in myself.
In the end, the final push to the finish ended up being inspired by grief. After my gran passed away, I needed something to stop me thinking. Something to distract me until the funeral. That’s why I spent every moment I could sitting at this keyboard. I stopped worrying about deadlines. I let my own story take over and it got me through a lot of early mornings, late evenings and nights. It got me problem solving without quite so much hesitation. It allowed me to drop the self doubt and got me through some awkward, empty weekends. Last weekend, before the funeral, I got over 60 pages of rewriting done and it felt great each day until I turned away from the screen.
It was only on Tuesday when I realised that push had gotten me to the end. I still can’t believe it. Now it’s with my publisher and I’m waiting to see if it works. I guess only time will tell, but at least I know I’ve spent all this time working towards something. Something with a beginning, a middle and an end. Something that feels very much my own thing. That makes all those problems and doubts nearly worthwhile.
So, I guess it’s time to open a new file and start thinking about novel number three. I hope this one plays nicely.