Is there anything more satisfying than finishing a draft and being happy with it? I think it’s the most incredible feeling because finishing a draft and being unhappy with it is wretched. And that’s not to say there isn’t work to be done! If that last line comes when you’re in draft two (like me), then you can guarantee there’s more hours that need to be put into your manuscript. But to get to the last line and to feel satisfied and content with where it is and where it’s going, what a wonderful feeling.
As you may or may not know, Project #3/OFBB was created during NaNoWriMo. It’s quite an intense month where the goal is to just write and write and write as you aim to complete at least 50,000 words over the span of 30 days. Thankfully, I consider myself quite good at writing and not looking back, which I know can be a struggle for some writers; they look at what they’ve just written and they can immediately see a way to strength it, so they go back and edit it. It can be a tricky cycle to break out of if that is something you struggle with, so trying to train yourself to just write and not immediately look back is something a lot of writers will tell you is the best way to get a manuscript finished. If you just keep editing, it’s hard to get to the end. I understand the compulsion to want to make sure everything you write is the strongest it can be, but sometimes having a finished manuscript in whatever state, be that strong or weak or incoherent, that’s often more rewarding than having just 20,000 perfect words, especially if your novel is meant to be 100,000 words. It’s not quite possible to hand in a half-finished manuscript even if those 20,000 words are perfect. I’m quite lucky, really, that I’ve never had to struggle with wanting to edit the sentence I’ve just written, but for anyone who does struggle with that, just know that breaking that habit will be so beneficial because it will help you get to the end. You can always go back and edit those first few sentences when you’ve got a finalised manuscript but it’s much harder to edit the ending if you don’t actually have an ending written.
When I did come back through, some of it was quite weak, there were lots of typos and sentences that repeated themselves. That’s why I totally understand the compulsion to want to strengthen those things the moment after you’ve written them. It can be difficult to see weaknesses in your writing. To be able to physically see that what you’ve just written is weaker than you’re capable of, of course I understand why you would want to go back and refine it immediately; it’s hard to see something you’ve created as being weak, it can make you feel self-conscious or that you’re not good enough to write in the first place.
What’s important, and I’ve said this before, is that, if you can see those weaknesses, that means you’re already a better writer than when you wrote those things. You always want to be improving, and going back through an old manuscript, whether that’s years old or just a few months, and noting how you can improve it shows how much you’ve grown as an author. I guess if you are a writer who does go back and edit what you’ve just written, perhaps that demonstrates growth that can come in seconds. Streams of consciousness might not always be that strong, but if you are the kind of writer who does immediately edit after writing, I think you’ll be able to see a lot more growth if you leave it a little longer because you can develop creatively a lot more if you give yourself more time.
So there were some easy changes to make in the form of correcting typos, deleting sentences, and improving grammar. Those issues are guaranteed when you just write and don’t look back at what’s been written, and those are easy things to correct too.
Then there were some bigger changes to be made. I had two characters that didn’t add anything specific, so they had to be reduced and funnelled into other characters, which meant giving these other characters dialogue they had once said and altering personalities slightly. It wasn’t enormously difficult, I think that’s a harder change when you’re in a later draft, but it certainly took some reorganising that could sometimes be cumbersome and it certainly could take a lot of effort. But it’s always important to know, when you’re making difficult changes, those are the kinds of changes that make a big difference and often strengthen your novel a great deal. That knowledge should hopefully be enough to persevere when you’ve got a character in a scene who is now no longer there or when a personality is being split into different characters and it makes what they said previously no longer fit.
What took the most time with this new draft was writing out my bracketed sections. The way I draft is going through the whole story, I don’t like to jump from section to section but work through scene after scene, following the story and the chapters as I go. What this sometimes means is that I might come to a scene and not be in the mindset to write it out, so I’ll just leave it in brackets and move on. That means a lot of my time in the next draft will be spent writing out those sections, though they might even be left again if I’m still not in the right mindset to write it all out.
Thankfully, NaNoWriMo inspired me enough to not leave all that many bracketed sections, there really was something very invigorating about aspiring to a sizeable word count that meant, whatever scene I was in, I was pretty much ready to write it, even if I acknowledged at the time that it would probably need to be fleshed out more in a later draft. Even so, there were still a few sections I had to go through and write out, which did take time. I want this novel to be quite imagery based, and that can take some time to craft. What’s important to note, at this stage, is there is no need to rush, so just let yourself take the time that you need to create how you want to create. If you are someone who does thrive under deadlines, then give yourself those deadlines, but don’t add any unnecessary pressure if those things don’t help you. Because I know I’m someone who does not thrive under that kind of pressure, I’m not going to be prescribing myself any.
There are still a couple of bracketed sections, mainly descriptions where I was writing in a place where I didn’t have access to descriptions for characters who hadn’t come up previously. They would be very easy fixes, but as I’m travelling at the moment, I especially don’t have access to some of my notes, so they’ll have to wait for the next draft. Unless that draft occurs when I am travelling, so maybe some characters won’t be described until draft eight, we’ll just have to see how it goes.
At this stage, we’re now at 107,085 words. I think, in a completed draft without brackets, it will likely sit at somewhere around 110,000 words, which I will then have to cut down to below 100,000, already something I believable will be feasible. I know there’s one entire chapter that might end up being unnecessary, so that’s encouraging. At this point, I’m not worried about the word count, which is a bit of a rarity for me. Hopefully this just means the story is perfectly crafted for the 100,000 word count that I’m aiming for, which would be wonderful. Whenever I used to write essays for university, a lot of my time would be spent in the later drafts cutting words out, so to know this story might be catered towards the 100,000 word count is encouraging.
For draft three, cutting out that chapter will be paramount. Then those brackets need to be written (if I can access my notes between now and then which might be unlikely given I won’t be home for a while). Cutting down words will be best left until a later draft. I think it’s important, in these early drafts, to let yourself be somewhat free, let yourself write and not be too limited by anything too technical. You can always cut down words later, but you don’t want to not write something down because you’re thinking about the word count and the technical aspects. Draft three is still about refining what’s there and adding what needs to be added, cutting words out can come later.
More research also needs to be done. I have been researching into art history, but there’s nothing to say you can’t do more research. You can never know too much, right? I also think I need to research into some Greek terminology, particularly that of the twin flame, which is a strong piece of imagery that comes up throughout the novel. I do find Greek mythology fascinating, so researching that will certainly not be a gruelling task. Arguably, most of your research needs to be something you don’t find too gruelling. I can understand why some topics will be a chore to get through, but if you’re writing about something, you kind of have to be interested in it, right? I wholeheartedly believe, if you’re bored of whatever you’re writing, readers will be able to tell. So if you’re researching something that comes up a lot in your novel and you’re bored or find it too much of a chore, maybe it would be a good idea to reconsider why you’re writing what you’re writing about, and if you need to change some aspects so the research isn’t something you dread. Personally, I enjoy researching and learning, but if you’re someone who doesn’t like those aspects about writing, making sure the topics you have to research are ones you find enjoyable is arguably paramount.
But like I said, I finished this draft feeling very happy with it. It’s such an incredibly satisfying feeling to read that last sentence and sigh in contentment. To feel that reward for putting in those hours of work, as an artist or creator, I don’t think there’s anything quite like it. Hopefully, that will continue with the next draft and the draft after that and so on and so forth. I don’t think you can predict how many drafts you’ll need before you feel it’s ready to be seen. Some might like people to oversee every draft, others might prefer for someone else to see it when it’s twenty drafts in, it really is different for every writer. I don’t know yet how long it might be before I can offer it to someone else, but if we continue in this vein, I think it might not be so far off at all, and that’s really exciting.