Taken in Winter '08, looking over the garden of our house in Somerset and the hills behind.

Here I sit on a cold winter day in Somerset. The sun, which in winter never gets very high above the hills, has lowered behind them again. The clouds in the southwest are a wonderful pale soufflé-orange tinged with wintry blue at the top and – oh – the sky is now dropping crumbs of snow onto the cold flagstones of our patio, and the frozen pond.

Many other parts of Britain have already seen snow, which makes me more hopeful for a White Christmas. It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, so here’s a run down of what’s new.

My dad recently retired, and my immediate family (that is, my mum, my dad, my sister and I) has now relocated to a hamlet called Blackmoor which sits at the feet of the Blackdown Hills. The countryside round here is stunning, and since I’ve always found landscapes inspiring, I find that it nurtures my motivation to write on an almost daily basis.

I also accepted a job offer this week, and I’ll be starting a part time job at Waitrose, a supermarket chain owned by the John Lewis Partnership, in January. Being unemployed has not been boring, because over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time both writing and working on a dressmaking project, at the same time as jobhunting. But I feel relief at knowing I’m out of the woods. It’ll be nice to earn money again. Also, my hours are fantastic, and will allow me time to write in the late afternoon. Success!

I’m working on the first draft of a novel. The novel. The one I’ve been charting on and off in this blog for a few months now. Something for the writer’s confessional: about two weeks ago I was ready to pack it in, convinced that there was no point in finishing a first draft which has become so wildly different to what it started as. For instance, whole characters might have to be excised or relocated in the second draft. Whole settings, scenes and conversations. We’re talking about renovations on the grand scale. I feel especially guilty about one of my former main protagonists, who in plot terms has become slightly redundant.

The long and short is that I might have to cut her completely! But isn’t that a more definitive, honest way of writing than orphaning my first draft and its protagonists and starting afresh? If I did that now I’d be back at square one. I’d be kidding myself if I thought that it would be any easier to chuck out all of the very real progress I’ve made and start from the beginning.

This knowledge is not something I’ve come by on my own. I’ve read blogs, NaNoWriMo pep talks (despite the fact that November turned out to be a non-writing month for me, and very much a sewing month) and internet articles which all at one time or other make roughly the same point: the first draft is not the final product, and much of what comes out in an early flight of inspiration will not make it through to the hallowed stages of later drafts.

This is some of the best advice I’ve ever been given as a writer. It’s the advice that talks me down from the figurative rooftop every single time I’m on the verge of giving up. I’m grateful to everyone who has ever rendered it in their own words.

Past the crisis point of fight or flight, there is more progress to be made; greater heights to reach. Now as I continue to take my novel onwards, as more scenes unfurl from the sidelines, as the ending becomes imperceptibly nearer the more I write, I find myself looking back at all the curiosities, unfulfilled plotlines and characters that emerged in the early stages of writing this draft. I feel like Alice, peering back up the rabbithole, looking for the pinpoint-sized opening all the way at the top. How did I get here? If it’s an overused comparison to make, forgive me. It’s certainly a useful one.

Or perhaps it’s that I started off writing a cat, and my cat has changed into a dog.

I’ll explain why this is a bit more literal than just the odd character here, a scene or two there. My novel began, literally, in this world. Earth. Europe. England. I intended to write an urban fantasy with a shadowy Underworld on the other side of the door, on the flipside of reality. Now my novel has uprooted itself and gone firmly into the realms of fantasy where the door has vanished, and there is no other reality.

Whilst this is clear to me, it’s a little harder in practise. While I’m still working on the first draft, I can’t quite bring myself to act upon this realisation. My main character (who stood up and wrested the spotlight from the aforementioned former main character) still thinks that he’s from this world originally. It’s not too troubling to still be referring to two different worlds, because I know in my heart that my story has moved beyond all that. It’s more of a habit to keep up the pretence now. Maybe a bad habit, but I feel confident that it’ll be easy to remedy when I come to editing. Some of the other changes that need to be made, on the other hand …

It’s not just my main character who’s come through a rabbit hole. I have too. I’m no psychoanalyst, but I could say that starting the novel in the real world and over time moving it into a wholly different, fantastical world was a subconscious way of relaxing into my writing, letting go of the expectations and the self-imposed genre trappings that informed my style early on.

This is why I’m looking at my draft and seeing two very different beasts. Over the course of more than 90,000 words, my writing has gone through a sea change. I’ve warmed to my style, to my characters, and to the plot which I barely knew existed at the start. I feel old excitements coming back, from the days when I wrote high fantasy, drew maps and invented languages.

(My father is a trained cartographer and also introduced me to Tolkien’s Middle-earth. You can see where I get it from.)

As for this particular draft, well, I feel like I’m conducting an experiment which has begun to reach the final stages, in which I am also the guinea pig. Pursuing the writing of a first draft has done amazing things for my patience, imagination, caffeine intake and spontaneity. I know that editing will be another thing entirely. But I’m already looking forward to getting there. Anything that stretches my writing skills and teaches me new ones is fine by me.

Links:

‘1000 Words A Day Challenge’ on Inkygirl.com.
‘The best writing mistakes and how to make them’ on 3000 messages.

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