As a writer, there are many things that scare me and make me want to hide in my cave and pretend that everything I write is just fantastic and it doesn’t matter if I never go outside because no-one will see it anyway. And breathe.
In my pre-SCBWI deluded state, I would regularly tell myself the following: no, it doesn’t need edited. No, it’s in fantastic shape to send out. In fact, it’s so brilliant and well-written that the lucky agent I send it to will want to frame it and keep it forever and sign me up for a ten-book-deal-all rights-sold-across-the-world contract. In an ideal world, maybe. But in my world, no. Absolutely not.
I joined SCBWI. I now share my work with other writers at critique groups and I attend as many workshops and events as I possibly can on topics such as ‘the art of knowing what the hell I’m doing when I write’ and ‘how not to submit when I know fine well it’s not ready’ and my favourite by far ‘how to stop watching videos of pandas and kittens when I should be writing’. Yes, my procrastination astounds even me.
I normally tell those that ask that I write picture books. Lovely, fluffy, happy text that will hopefully one day be married up with the most amazing illustrator on the planet! But that was then. Now I tell them I am trying a bit of everything: middle grade, crime, board books for babies… I haven’t quite considered YA (Young Adult) as yet, but you never know.
It’s good for the soul to see what else is out there, right? I suppose I am what you would call the proverbial literary customer at an all-you-can-write buffet.
On the 1st of January I decided that 2016 was going to be my year for change. In my fantastically naive wisdom, I thought I would attempt the completion of my very first middle grade draft by 29th February. Easy! I said, Absolutely! I agreed with myself. And then I noticed there were others out there thinking the same thing. So we all made a pact and off we went to our individual caves of destiny. A daily interjection of support and a sprinkle of positive camaraderie when we needed it kept us going.
Sadly, it didn’t quite work for me. Life, as it sometimes does, got in the way – school holidays, illness… you know what I mean. The 29th February came and went and I celebrated with those who had made it and commiserated with those, like me, who hadn’t quite got there yet.
In my determined and slightly manic state, I decided that I would not give up. So I went ahead and set myself a new target – 31st March.
I now had an additional 31 days to complete the first draft – my vomit draft, as it is known around these literary parts. I booked a week away at Grosvenor House, made sure the family were sorted with Easter fun/camps/skiing/working from home etc and away I went.
On the train down, a niggling thought kept crossing my mind. What if I STILL didn’t finish it after being away from the hustle and bustle of life, with no internet access (my choice), and a week in a lovely place by the sea to write in all day?
So. I dangled a final carrot of hope and wrote on the train. If I can get 1500 words done before I get to King’s Cross then this might actually work. And I did.
By the time I arrived in Kent, a new and improved inner-itinerary had been re-written for the week ahead.
Write. Eat. Nap. Write. Breather-chat. Write… you get the idea. Before I knew it, I had completed 4,000 words on the first day, I found myself heading closer to the almost-invisible finish line.
I didn’t stop for plot holes, I just noted down the changes needed in bold. I didn’t worry that my main character had long white hair in one chapter and short blue hair in another. I also ignored the fact that her name was misspelled at least four times (that I can remember anyway) and I just got on with it. These are all things to sort out in the next draft. THIS draft is ME telling MYSELF the story. No-one else. Just me.
I love the phrase ‘the vomit draft’ because that’s exactly what it is. It’s an internal washing machine full of ideas and thoughts that once rinsed and ready to hang outside, can lead the way for my story. It all churns together in my head, waiting to go ‘blah’ all over the page. Like vomit.
Only better. And less smelly.
In seven days – I completed the first draft of my very first middle grade novel and sorted out the story arc for three picture books that have been frustrating me. It’s fair to say that I was quite productive. And I had an ice-cream too. On the beach. To celebrate.
Same time next year, I hear my next book ask. Maybe?
Probably, I reply.