First draft fever

I’m giving myself an hour to write this post. That may seem like a long time, but I am a slow writer, a slow reader and an all-round slow thinker. I can easily spend the better part of a day carefully composing a blog post, or – as has happened a shameful number of times – write one in fits and starts over the course of several weeks, and quite possibly never finish it. So this is an attempt to speed myself up and, in the process, maybe find a sustainable way of updating this blog more than once in a blue moon.

This year, I’ve also adopted a similar approach when it comes to writing novels. After spending so many years painfully extracting The War of Undoing from my head like a troublesome tooth, I wanted to get on and hammer out something completely new to prove to myself that I could. So at the beginning of March (before I finalised TWOU, actually) I set myself the task of writing a first draft of a new, shortish (60,000 word) novel over the course of six weeks. This would mean writing 2,000 words a day and working 5 days a week. 2,000 words was right at the edge of my ability when I was rewriting The War of Undoing back in 2012, so this seemed ambitious but not impossible.

Two weeks later, I somehow finished the first draft of the new book – let’s call it Project Rose – having managed to churn out around 4,000 to 6,000 words a day, as well as working weekends. I was astonished at myself. I’d heard of people writing drafts that fast, but I never thought I was capable of doing so myself. In case you are interested, here are the tricks that I think helped me achieve this:

  1. I made the rule that I would not overthink what I was writing. This was a first draft, after all, and if I wrote something incredibly stupid and rubbish, no one ever had to know. So if a potentially stupid and rubbish idea came into my head, as long as it amused me, I would put it in anyway and worry about it later.
  2. Going against my natural inclination to tinker, I absolutely forbade myself from going back and making changes to bits I’d already written. If I changed my mind about a plot element or character, I would carry on writing AS IF I had made all the necessary changes earlier but without actually doing so, and make a note of the change so it could be implemented in a rewrite.
  3. I was working from a plan. Not a massively detailed plan, but a brief chapter-by-chapter outline and some more in-depth notes which I’d spent a couple of months gradually cobbling together. This meant that no matter how many weird tangents I found myself going off on, I could always look at the plan and go “oh right, I’ve got to do that now”, pick up the draft and set it down pointing vaguely in the right direction like you would a remote control car with an especially erratic remote control.

And with those helpful hints comes a rather large disclaimer: the draft didn’t turn out very well at all. I can say that confidently because I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to subject it to its first major rewrite, and even with care and attention it seems vehemently opposed to the notion of being good. The quality of the writing is wildly variable (thanks for that, trick #1), it’s riddled with inconsistencies (cheers, trick #2) and it goes out of its way to conform to the most ludicrous plot points even when it has to drag the characters along kicking and screaming in order to get there (oh, trick #3, you bastard). There are things about it that I like, but for now I think I’m going to do the classic writer thing of leaving it in its (metaphorical) drawer for a while longer, and see how it looks to an older, hopefully more mature me.

Did I mention I wrote another first draft in May and June? Yeah, a first draft of a completely separate book, this one based on Project Chippy, the aborted detective webseries I mentioned on this blog back in 2012 – let’s call its novel incarnation Project Fishy. I mostly used the same methods as I used back in March, though I got derailed a bit more along the way, by doubts, plot problems and such. I haven’t gone back and looked at that first draft yet, but I suspect I’ll find that it’s just as flawed as Project Rose.

But I’m liking writing these first drafts, even if they’re nowhere close to being in a fit state for anyone else to read. Having two first drafts sitting there awaiting my attention is a much better feeling than the one I had before, which was “oh god, once I publish The War of Undoing I’ll have nothing new on the go and I’ll probably never be able to write anything again”. I’ve at least proved myself wrong in the most literal sense there – I have written more stuff. It may not be good, but I have written more stuff. So nyah, unrelenting negative voice in my head. Plus, writing first drafts is much more measurable than fiddling with drafts you’ve already written. I can look back on 2015 so far and say “Look! There are 120,000 words that didn’t exist in that order before.” Whereas last year … well, let’s not talk about last year.

So I’ve decided to embrace this first draft fever and write another one, starting next week. Unlike the others, this one will be set in Kyland, and will be a sort of prequel, telling a story about the Raining children’s time living in Tarot before all the craziness of The War of Undoing happens. My codename for it is Project Hopeless, which may mean something to the two or so people who have read TWOU and actually remember world details. I’m probably going to use a slightly different system for writing this first draft, making more notes before each chapter to keep myself on track, but I’m sure whatever system I use will still lead to an avalanche of horrendous problems for my future self.

Actually, who cares? I have plenty of future selves, and it’ll only be a problem for some of them. I have a feeling the ones who are going to be writing this first draft are going to enjoy it very much. And that’s my hour nearly up, so I’d better stop typing before this turns into yet another novel. Blog at ya soon! (God, I really need a way to end these things.)

Webseries hopes and fears

Before I opened up the edit again yesterday, it’d been a while since I’d really thought about Project Chippy, though I’d been peripherally aware of it gnawing away on my mind like a hamster on the bars of its cage. I haven’t been able to make much progress with it lately, partly because of university but mostly because of some stuff we/I messed up last year.

Some weird people in Project Chippy.

All I’ll say about Chippy for now is that it’s a webseries, starring me as a detective, Heather as a mysterious girl, and Euan as a mysterious guy. I’ve written three episodes of it, and we filmed most of what we need for them last summer.

I’ve referred to the webseries as a comedy-drama, though this isn’t an ideal fit as it’s not aiming to be laugh-out-loud funny – the “comedy” tag is mostly there so we can get away with being vaguely absurd and pleasantly quirky. (There really aren’t enough genre labels to cover the whole spectrum of possible tones, but I might get into that in a later post.) From what we have so far, I’m happy that we seem to have captured the tone we were going for rather well.

However, we weren’t so good at capturing Heather before she moved to Canada, so we’ve only filmed episodes one and three, leaving a big hole where most of episode two should be. This was silly of us.

Another thing I regret is that in writing the first three episodes I was probably too focused on setting stuff up for later in the series. As I’ve mentioned, I have trouble keeping projects from becoming overly ambitious, and even though this one was specifically designed to be manageable, following the patently unmanageable project I’d been working on previously (which turned into Project Mirror), it still got a bit out of hand. Even if we do end up filming loads more episodes and playing out all the storylines I’ve set up, I’ll still feel that the first few are not as strong as they could have been, had they been written with more of a focus on being entertaining in their own right, rather than setting up every little character detail for later.

A scary young man in Project Chippy.

Ah well. The series was always going to be a learning experience, and I decided early on that we should embrace that and carry on rather than go back and try to fix every mistake. So carry on we shall!

When Heather returns, albeit briefly, I’m hoping we can get episode two filmed – possibly her parts of episode four as well, if I’ve written that by then. That’ll give us a nice 3-4 episode taster, which should help us decide just how appetising the series as a whole looks, and whether we want to continue it when we get the chance.

In some ways I’d love to. Heather’s character is one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written, and has a lot of backstory that I’d like to get out there. Of course, the cast and crew are made up of my favourite people and working with them on silly stuff always makes me feel like I’ve somehow swapped my life for that of someone luckier.

I’m also excited about some of the insane ideas I have for later episodes, though I’m currently in the awkward position of not quite knowing how I’m going to get the story from where it is at the end of episode three to where it needs to be to incorporate those plots. That’s the sort of thing I’ll inevitably end up working out when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Apologies in advance to the Beyond Studios Advent Calendar!

Anyway, one way or another you’ll probably see the first few episodes of Project Chippy later this year. Please don’t stare at my bald head.