Let’s say that, like me, you’ve made the most of your commute and are managing to write 1,500 to 2,000 words a day on your way into and way out of work. And let’s say like me that you’re making the most of your lunchtimes and getting another 1,500 and 2,000 words down. Before long you’ll have yourself a good-sized book. Four weeks of doing that every day (and that’s ignoring any time you’ve managed to steal back at the weekends) could yield you a book that’s 80,000 words in length.
Not bad going. Pat yourself on the back.
The problem is though that it’s a first draft scribbled down in notepads. Scrawled no doubt, as you’re writing so quickly.
There’ll be parts of it that you want to go back and completely change, new plot strands you’ll want to introduce, new themes you’ll want to explore, characters whose essence has been altered so much as the book has progressed that they’re unrecognisable as the same people.
You might be three quarters of the way through and still charging on with your scribbling, but you know that there’s still a lot of work ahead and that can be disheartening.
I understand that completely, and the next stage was one I struggled with.
How the hell was I going to find the time to type everything I’d done up? Obviously, it had to be typed up to get published, but how was I going to do it?
Was I really going to buy a laptop bag and hump the whole thing into work every day, so I could type up in my lunchtimes at the café?
The answer to that last question was yes, I would do that. Because it needed to be done, I bought a laptop sleeve and a backpack big enough to carry it and now wander around London as if I’m on manoeuvres.
But I also – and this is the important part of this post – made an interesting discovery about my work process.
The notion I initially had was that I should write the first draft long-hand in a notepad and then take a break so that it could breathe. Then after a bit of space, I’d rewrite it as I typed it up. But once I had the sleeve and the laptop bag, I thought why wait and so started typing and rewriting my book as soon as I possibly could. In fact, I was typing and rewriting it so soon that I hadn’t even finished the first draft.
In the morning I’d be scribbling away furiously on the final third of the book; while in lunchtimes and evenings, I would be typing up the first third.
And the thing is, it gave my process an intensity which undoubtedly benefitted my writing enormously.
It meant that the opening chapters of the book, which I was rewriting, were being informed by the later chapters that I was then actually writing, and of course vice versa. To some it might seem too all consuming, to some it would undoubtedly be like a dog chasing its tail, but for me it meant that the story was constantly in my head. That every aspect of it was being improved at once.
Good ideas I had about the ending could be foreshadowed in the beginning, character moments I inserted into my rewrite were easily picked up in later sections. The whole became this wonderful circle that I was spinning around and around.
Constantly working on it, and working on different parts and different stages simultaneously, made for a much better book. Hitherto the rewriting was where I struggled, where I became bogged down, but because what I was writing in the morning was new and fresh and exciting, a lot of that thrill carried into the rewriting as well and resulted in work I’m really proud of.
DIANA CHRISTMAS is published the week after next. But if you feel like reading the first few chapters early, they’re available now.