I’m halfway through a very “dirty draft” of my second book (the one I started to distract me from the pain of submitting The White Lady to literary agents).
When I was writing The White Lady I flirted a little with dirty drafting but generally perfected each chapter – each scene, each damn sentence – before moving on to the next. I finished up with 160,000 words and spent the next 12 months cutting 50,000 and bringing some order into my overblown manuscript.
I suppose an analogy would be to trudge up a mountain with eyes fixed on the path; very carefully setting one foot in front of the other but ignoring the view. It can work – until fog descends, the path peters out and you’ve no idea where you are. It only worked for me because I had a strong sense of direction; I knew what the closing words of The White Lady would be even as I composed the opening sentence.
Not so this time. This time I am inspired by a method described by Katja L Kaine in an article on the ProWritingAid website and summarised in this nice diagram:
The beauty of this method is the lack of pressure to be perfect; perfection only creeps in by comfortable degrees much later. The hardest bit – putting on your boots and getting out of your nice warm car into the teeth of horizontal rain – is actually the easiest.
Draft 0 is an outline written in bullet points or as stage directions. I wrote mine is the present tense, thus:
Hope starts to feel trapped and claustrophobic. The village seems to close in around her. She keeps thinking of France. The village want a memorial to A. B looks haunted when pressed on the subject.
Five sentences to represent two – probably three – scenes showing Hope’s growing distress; long, solitary walks, mooching around the churchyard, letters or conversations – I’ve no idea how I’ll get there but at least I know where I’m heading.
Draft 1 is where I am now. “Write like a steam train”. No punctuation, no capital letters, truncated grammar; a stream of consciousness full of “thens” and “suddenlys”, lists of competing adjectives – and the occasional well-turned phrase that pops into my mind just in time to make it to the page before I rattle on.
What now? Ah, yes! The memorial to A. Let’s go! “B looks haunted.” No, he doesn’t – because I know him better than I did when I wrote Draft 0. He wouldn’t look haunted. He’s going to be sarcastic and nasty and down a tumbler of whisky and make Hope cry. Oh, this is fun!
Writing a dirty draft is like running up the mountain, brushing aside obstacles and bounding over holes in the plot. The summit is in sight and I know I’ll get there because nobody’s watching and it doesn’t matter how clumsy and breathless I am. And then I’ll trot back down, turn around and enjoy walking slowly back up the familiar path, picking edelweiss, admiring the goat-herds and choosing my words with care and precision.
I’ll let you know how I get on.