A Damning Review?

Everybody’s a critic

She didn’t even make it past the cover – should I be worried?

There is a golden time between the end of a draft and the time when you pick it up again. A time when you think to yourself “That was a pretty good draft, I don’t think there will be much to do in the next one…”

For a good three months or so I’ve been basking in this post 2nd draft glow ( coincidently it coincided (say that three times fast…(parentheses within parentheses within parentheses – whoot!)) with the best summer Wellington has had in ten years, so I guess my writing is only partially responsible).

Until I started re-reading my novel

Let me start with saying I’m not about to throw myself off a cliff or the nearest tall building. It’s not that bad. It’s just not great.

So far I have resisted the “red pen” urge to write over it immediately. I’m forcing myself to read it as a whole without the pressure to fix everything right away… but it is very difficult to do that.

Last year I decided to rewrite all of Mae’s chapters in first person (the rest is in 3rd person subjective); I rewrote them all together so the voice would be consistent. This created continuity problems with the rest of the novel. Which are glaringly obvious now – January has a tin of letters from a 1st draft chapter that she didn’t actually take in an earlier 2nd draft chapter. I can also tell the parts I worked on last year and the parts that survived from the first draft. I doubt they’ll survive this draft!

The problem that I see in the first draft survivors is the lack of a firm decision on my part. I had no idea what January did for a living in the first draft, just that she worked in an office doing something she hates. Some of the people who have read my drafts love this – that January is doing a nondescript job that amounts to nothing. The problem I have with it is that because I don’t know I’ve filled up pages with stuff that happens in the office to explain why she hates it so much and it becomes a distraction from the real story. So when I heard about death clerks it made sense to locate January there – a woman who is afraid to live coming into contact with life everyday? Of course she’s going to hate it. It will (hopefully) make her move to become Mae’s apprentice less forced as well.

I found the same thing earlier in the year when I was writing a new play Kiwiana Charlatan. I got three quarters through and had to stop, realising that I had to make a decision on one of the characters to explain the events thus far and to justify the ending (yes folks I do have an ending, it just won’t make sense until I fix up the front).

This is the part where it is both scary and exciting. The decisions I make will definitely change the work; but for the better or the worse?

It is also the time when I’ll disappoint those have read previous drafts who will say “Oh I loved that bit and you’ve cut it out” and usually I loved it too, but it didn’t work so it had to go.

Mind you, maybe I should save up all the “missing bits” and try a bit of cut and paste again! It may be my next novel eh?


Filed under On being a Writer, The Graphologist's Apprentice

3 responses to “A Damning Review?

  1. I think it’s good to be clear-headed about the quality of your second draft. It would be very tempting just to think “that’ll do” and try and send it out there before it’s ready.

    I meant to ask you by the way… how was the Randall Cottage fellowship? Did you find you got lots of work done? I am enjoying having to actually leave the house to go to my office – no distractions like the dishes or the washing or magazines or (insert any number of crap procrastination tools)…

  2. Whiti

    I got loads of work done at Randell Cottage – partly because I thought I had to live up to it – “they’ve given me a fellowship I better write something!!” mentality. It also helped that the writing shed was outside of the house (though not too far for a cuppa) and once I was in there it was “writing time”. Oh there are so many delightful procrastination tools aren’t there? Blogging may just become one of them…

  3. I think blogging is great for procrastination, but it is also great for getting my mind fired. If I start the week with a blog post, then the machine is oiled and ready to go.

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