Nothing like a five-year old manuscript

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I am working on this “draft” (of drafts) again. It says I last worked on it in 2016, the first words go back to 2011, which I find both curious, and almost desperate. The plot is vague, the characters unbelievable, well, not so deep anyway. Yet I find this important, even vital: retracing these steps, pausing on the good bits, not yet editing but planning to.

This project was, at the time, very time consuming. I looked for every opportunity to work on it, despite… a rather busy life. And, now, I really want to turn it into something worth reading, not just by me, but even by others too. There is something in the story I find, again, puzzling. I think it is the geography of the thing, its way to send the characters… maybe where they want to go. Not so random.

Shitty first drafts

“Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”

Peedeel's Blog

Shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits…

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Of a broken box and a small town

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In the past two weeks my writing output (I did not want to say “literary”) was badly affected by the collapse of my old Mac, bought in 2009. This was the tool for my writing before and after a first (disk) failure, back in 2018. I was then lucky enough to find a local expert (in Gesundbrunnen) to fix it, without loss of anything. So its life was extended by about a year. Ha! the anxiety, those precious manuscripts! I have now bitten the bullet, and got a so-called refurbished recent version of the same, so that I can now, for a while, avoid the usual trap of “too old to be updated etc.” Hence new MacOs and new virus protection. Even an updated version of Scrivener. Sigh… The “migration”, although assisted courtesy Apple™, was an experience… It’s all there as far as I have been able to ascertain, so far. I am now full of enthusiasm, and I am even considering a major reconstruction of my first novel, still languishing on the Cloud (more about this for another post).

In the meantime, on a beautiful and cool Sonntag we have discovered another treasure of Brandenburg, the town of Eberswalde. Treasure because of the location (slightly north-east of the city of Bernau by Berlin, and easily accessible with the regional train, well designed for carrying lots of bicycles), along two beautiful canals, the Finowkanal and the main Oder to Havel canal. Superb riding country, much loved by cycling enthusiasts all year round. The Finowkanal is on its length the site of magnificent industrial buildings in ruins, notably a paper mill dating back to the XVIIth century (and still working in 1991 when the vultures came in), and an electricity generation plant. This inspired me to write about it, and seek its history.

Now let’s go back to work!

Image: old paper mill in Eberswalde, source: Technikdenkmal in Eberswalde

Eberswalde bei Wikipedia.de

Clean #amwriting

The Prompt

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Each day some words appear on the page, tentative, surrounded in mist,  as if those words emerged from a cloudy landscape, as yet unformed. Summoning a clean page let the characters know: they are not alone, more life is being breathed into their world, a genesis.

Their impatience is a testimony to their precarious existence: until the work is complete, they don’t know for sure that they will survive the latest twist, those nightly revisions, the dreaded editing. For words may disappear, and with them, the reasons for those fragile beings to be born.

Each day, for us too, is a clean page, to be written with care, and attention to detail: for the number of pages is finite, and the Book has many characters.

Disagree #DailyPost #WritersWednesday

Inspired by today’s prompt

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“It’s me you’re babbling about, isn’t it?” she said, on a tone of voice that betrayed her mounting anger. I kept silent, no point in denying: the computer screen clearly showing the latest entry on her story was there, in front of us. At this point she was arguing with her ex-husband, and a row was boiling.

“I asked you before: let’s talk first before you start writing about my intimate life, wasn’t that made clear to you?” I could not disagree, we had that conversation a year ago, she’d complained about not being consulted on details of her life she wanted to be true and accurate. Then she even went as far as mentioning “abuse”. An author abusing his characters, well, this character, at any rate.

I wanted a way out, but knew she would not give up easily. “I suggest you read the draft, and I’ll do the corrections you want, within reason. How does that sound to you?” Her reply was as icy as her grey eyes:

“The fool doesn’t even know the power of words. Think again: what you write can never be erased, or edited out. You just hurt people with words, as sure as you would with a knife! So take that for a certainty: I DISAGREE with you messing with me, my life, past and future, unless I have knowledge, beforehand, of what you are plotting.”

She knows her strength: characters have their rights, and for a writer, breaching those is a sure road to bad writing. I went to the kitchen to make her a cup of tea, but when I came back she was gone. The screen showed in large characters:

“YOU’D BETTER LISTEN THIS TIME!”

Edit, Rewrite, or… Scrap: #Writer’s dilemma #amwriting

SentinelI know this work is far from being completed, let alone publishable. Friends have, politely, ignored invites to comment, always a bad sign… Yet I am reluctant to scrap, while accepting that making this good would require a lot of effort, probably more so than it took to scribble in the first place.

What hope is there of turning this into a cohesive, structured, readable THING? The structure is like straw in the wind, and I am not convinced it ever was readable as a story. There are good intervals, and those are rarely followed by a consistent development: it’s all very fuzzy.

I have asked the characters, and some of them are willing to help, all in different ways. One suggests making his part the central narrative! Evidently a biased view. Another to tell the tale backwards, with flashbacks. Who knows? I like the characters, even the unruly ones. But the story? I know how it started, how it meandered… to end nowhere, in a confusion of styles, hesitating between futurist, nostalgic or plainly erratic!

So, the question remains, what is there to do? Edit? Rewrite? Or scrap. Plenty of new ideas, plenty of possible projects… Reusing the material – some 100k or thereabout – is tempting, perhaps in an entirely new context.

On page turning #amwriting #amediting

LoveEvery writer reaches this point, I expect, sooner or later, when a decision has to be taken: continue the story, or close it, refine it, not just through careful editing, but perhaps rewriting too.

After forty odd thousand words the story has its own momentum, and the characters their own agenda. Once one reaches the 100k, changing direction is like navigating the proverbial tanker! What interests me is the dynamics between author-story-characters as the work progresses. In this case the story is anchored on the City, and the characters’s ballet is centred on the City. One could say that the City is one of the characters, not a mere backdrop for the story. The City influences the (other) characters, some more deeply than others. In short, there is the trio of people who make up the current narrative, the City (and its siblings) and the author. Who best controls the story? Who is best placed to decide the future?

There may be a conflict of interests. The characters want to continue with their lives, and don’t give a damn about polishing or refining, or, for that matter, publishing! Since the City is more real than the story, it sees itself, should I say herself? – as the arbitrator. The author, of course, wishes to see a finished product. But the author also depends on the characters for inspiration, and on the City for belief. The City hosts the story, and protects the author against the inevitable drift and diversions. In one sense the book can only come to life, be born, in the City.

There are many ways to close the story. Killing one or more characters is one way. Getting the plot(s) to an unexpected ending is another. Needless to say the former is not popular with characters. Nor is the latter, since it means the end of their hopes and perhaps lives, in another way, just as final as death. There the characters and the City have a common cause.

I expect the author will have to work at two levels, and one of them is to continue with the story! The other being the boring stuff made of editing, and taking out, and rewriting, and… Stuff that!

To conclude: I suspect the author to be too much involved, and enjoying herself, with her characters to attempt anything final

After the First Draft #amediting, or am I (re) #writing?

Road to the Mind The struggle to complete the mythical first draft opens the gate to another level of enjoyment: in this case I am waiting for the work undertaken by my editor – bless her keyboard – to be completed before switching seriously into 2nd draft gear. I have already done some work on the basis of her observations and corrections so far: I expect a rewrite may be on the cards. Am I afraid? Not at all, this is training. One day it will bear fruit… or not. Who knows?

The adventure started some two years ago, often stalled and restarted, must continue. Distractions, travel, friends, family, books! – all reasons why progress is slow. One interesting observation is the number of blind alleys marks left all over the place: locations of no import, even characters of total irrelevance popping out here and then. My editor must think me nuts! And of course, as any writer in training, I am!

So what is the real next step? The novel is in three parts, and this was only part 1.  A rewrite of part 1 has real advantages, for example to reset the plot on a firmer foundation, after eliminating the “red herrings”. This should lead to better writing in parts 2 and 3, shouldn’t it? Well… The trouble is that the whole enterprise would be pushed back for at least a year; and there lies the risk of losing momentum.

There is another snag: new ideas are popping up, for another book! Discipline, discipline. We have to focus, and not lose sight of the goal: writing a good first novel!

Image: “Road to the mind”, by Leppakaklifoth

 

Hectic weeks in perspective… #amediting

Photographed by Frode & Marcus for Smug Magazine #6 Spring/Summer 2013. Well, my friend Tara is soon starting work on The Page book 1… In the meantime I am getting ready to rewrite, at the same time as making a start on book 2. There is already a lot of material there which needs editing – of course – and sorting. The tale continues in Berlin where the four protagonists have to chose their side of the fence. It is timely that book 1 was completed – well, first draft – as the German elections got on their way. In the Summer we admired the little posters in each town or city we travelled through from the Baltic coast to Weimar and Hessen where regional elections took place on Sunday. Mrs Merkel is an expert politician, a real head of government… But there is a drama in the background: that of a successful and powerful European country attempting to develop more democracy in the midst of a serious crisis…

What comes next on this saga of mine? The plot is beginning to make sense – after 35k! for this first draft before serious editing – and the second part will see the story spiralling into a conflict between absolute love and survival. Long evenings are in front of this writer in learning!… Most of the action in book 2 is in Paris, and of course, Berlin.

Still interested to hear from beta readers! Just sayin’…