Monday, February 15, 2010

Raw

So right now I'm still hip-deep in first draft territory, which pretty much means that every day is much like the last. If writing a short story is a sprint, then writing a novel is a marathon. You use different muscles and a different, deeper, slower metabolism, and most of all you need to get into a one-page-after-another groove. And like a shark, you need to keep moving forward.

Most writers set themselves a daily target. Back in the days of typewriters it was measured in pages. I wrote my first novel on a typewriter, and because I had a full-time job as a post doc researcher I did it in the evening, at the reasonable pace of three pages a day; if the last page ended in the middle of a sentence I'd write the rest on a scrap of paper and start again from there the next day. Now, progress is usually measured in words, counted each day by a sub-routine of a word-processing program. I like to write a minimum of 1500 words a day, first draft, but am happier if I can hit at least 2000. I take the weekends off (or rather, I usually catch up with other stuff on weekends: right now, I'm proofing a novel for publication in the US later in the year). So I'm aiming for at least 10,000 words a week. About 30 pages. Other writers aim for a little more or a little less, but that's a comfortable pace for me. I started at the beginning of January, and by the time the trees are coming into leaf, I should have reached the end of the beginning.

As far as I'm concerned it's after the first draft is finished that the real work begins. The first draft is a rough map of the territory I want to explore. A raw slab of text that needs to be cut and trimmed and shaped. All the characters and most of the story is in there, but there's a lot of stuff that's too obvious, and other stuff that's too thin. Cliches need to be excised. The background needs to be thickened and coloured in. And so on. All of that lies in the future. Late spring. Early summer. Right now I need to keep pushing forward, day after day.

3 Comments:

Blogger PeteY said...

That's quite interesting, to those of us who try but mostly fail to write fiction. Perhaps you could add your ten rules to this

February 20, 2010 10:10 PM  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Pete,

Yes, some good stuff in that Guardian piece. Seems to me they all boil down to:
a) read a lot - especially when you are young
b) develop good regular writing habits
c) don't be afraid to fail

Did I miss anything?

February 22, 2010 12:53 PM  
Blogger PeteY said...

Yes. Cyril Kornbluth held that real writers drink black coffee. He tried, apparently. It's probably best not to emulate him, though.

February 22, 2010 9:30 PM  

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