The other day, I posted the first chapter to my novel. It took five months.
Why so long? It took five rewrites, but that's no excuse. The first draft took one week. I was happy with my progress and thought I would be able to finish the chapter within a month. Each subsequent rewrite took longer than the last. Draft four took over two months. The final draft? About five days.
Sometimes I will get stuck on a single paragraph for a long time; a day, a week, maybe longer. My first draft is my rough(est) draft. I don't pay attention to grammar or sentence structure too much, I just try to get the story down on digital paper, try to get all the events and dialogue laid out, so that I have something to follow when writing the next draft, which in my very organized writing software/implement is called Draft 2. I gradually improve upon every subsequent draft, fixing all my major annoyances from the prior, until I can read through a draft without pause. Without anything nagging me. Without that little voice inside telling me, "Jan, this is bad." It's not a very learned approach to writing, I know. It's just writing, and rewriting, ad nauseam, until I am happy with what's on the page. Ad nauseam might not be fair though. I enjoy rewriting, it's where I can add all the flourishes to my prose, where the characters come alive through dialogue, where I can sneak in some foreshadowing (and cackle to myself), and those moments where something just works, I treasure. It's during these rewrites that I really discover the story myself, too. I do eventually reach that final draft (and I do still call it a draft), but it can take a while.
I thought it would be interesting to compare all these drafts. I've thought this a few times already, but I've never done it. Here are the first two paragraphs from Chapter 1, from each of the drafts, for those curious:
- Draft 1
- Draft 2
- Draft 3
- Draft 4
- Draft 5
He sat in the dark and listened. He had trouble breathing. The footsteps were nearing. There was water dripping somewhere and echoing. The alley was a black abyss. The air was stuffy. He may as well have been at the bottom of a river, where the light doesn’t reach, and the air is as scarce. He might end up there anyway, unless the man chasing him just leaves his body here, for the rats and strays to eat. Somehow, he preferred the first option. Fish eating his dead corpse, somehow seemed more poetic.
“I know you’re here, you rotten scoundrel,” Wenglett said. “It’s a dead end Kaed, you’re caught like a rat. I’m going to enjoy killing/butchering you.”
He sat in the bleak black and listened. Droplets echoed nearby as they spilled into an unseen puddle, one by chagrinned one. The footsteps neared and the alley narrowed. He may as well have been at the bottom of the river, too far down for the light to reach. The air would have been just as scarce. It could still happen, unless Wenglett decided to leave him here for some sick strays to feast upon. He preferred the former. Tiny little fish and bottom-feeding crustaceans making a meal of his bloated, decomposing corpse. Somehow, it seemed more poetic.
“I know you’re here you rotten mongrel. It’s a dead end, Kaed. No place left to run. You’re caught like a rat, and I’m going to enjoy butchering you like one.”
He wrapped the darkness around him like a second skin, and leaned out to listen. Droplets echoed as they spilled into an unseen puddle drop by diffident drop. The footsteps neared. He might as well have been at the bottom of the river, too far down for the light to reach. The air would have been just as scarce. It could still happen, unless his corpse was left behind here for the strays to tear apart. He preferred the river. His bloated and decomposing corpse would make a feast for the fish and crabs and the rest of the crustaceans moored beneath the water. Somehow, it seemed more dignified.
“I know you’re here you rotten mongrel. It’s a dead end, Kaed. You’re caught, like a rat, and I’m going to enjoy butchering you like one.”
The sun dipped below the distant horizon, and the night spun a dark web through the alleys of Reveurn. The thief peered through a gap in the refuse that surrounded him. He could have been at the bottom of the river. He would have seen just as little and the air would have been just as scarce. The thief rubbed his chest, but the itch only sank deeper. The night could still end in that place. His blistered corpse would make a feast for the countless creatures moored beneath the shivering depths, unless he was left behind here for the strays to tear apart. The footsteps neared.
“I know you’re here you rotten mongrel. It’s a dead end, Kaed. You’re caught, like a rat.”
The thief peered through a gap in the refuse. Night had spun a dark web through the alleys of Reveurn. He could have been at the bottom of the Horn. He would have seen just as little and the air would have been just as scarce. The thief rubbed his chest. The night could still end in that place. His blistered corpse would make a feast for the countless creatures moored beneath the shivering depths, unless he was left behind here for the strays to tear apart. The footsteps neared.
“I know you’re here, you rotten mongrel. It’s a dead end, Kaed.”
Of course, this isn't the end of it. There will be a Draft 6 eventually. I've gone over Draft 5 already and made some minor corrections, improvements (and removed at least ten commas, as I like them so much), but this is the part where I am happy with what I've created, and I want to share it. I can gather feedback, make notes, and I can move on to Chapter 2.
The real reason this took so long is simple: I don't have structure. I don't have a routine. I don't write every day, which is the real crime here. I'm getting better though, I'm learning when and where I can write, I'm learning what my distractions are and how I can minimize them. I think this web log is a wonderful tool, since I can trace my progress, and as can others, and that does add a modicum of pressure to write, which I think is needed to counterbalance all the distractions life is able to hurl. I will create this routine faster, I think, than I might otherwise. Faster, however, might not be as fast as I might like.
I make no promises regarding Chapter 2 other than it will get written, and it will get posted here when it's done. It's tempting to give a deadline, even an estimate, but I realise now that I will break it. In the mean time, until Chapter 2 is done, and between subsequent chapters, I will endeavour to post web log updates here more often.