The pen ran out of red ink with three pages to go. It was a sign. I’ve finished the raw edit. Next, I need to turn the thousands of changes I’ve made into pixels. But, the big news (for me) is that what you can see above, is my book. It’s raw, but it’s finished. Now, begins the real work. Making it readable.
When I start to see stars and my head fries with a fuzzy feeling, I know it’s time to put the editing pen down. I have ten pages left to work on. They’re the last ten pages of the book. At least of the draft version of the book. There are a few too many psychedelic bits in there at the moment. I’ll need a clear head if I am to make them less trippy, more informative, yet entertaining. The manuscript is filled with red ink. Like I’ve blown blood snot all over it.
That dangerous stage in the edit where you think what you've done is quite good. NEVER a good sign. Has "shit tomorrow" written all over it.
— Graham Holliday (@noodlepie) December 5, 2013
One thing I did find useful tho, was to go back to the beginning of the first notebook I filled when I started the book and re-read it right through. Most of it was already used, irrelevant or total crap. However, I found a few little sentences which I’ve added to the manuscript or made a note to add. Just small things that sparked ideas then. And do again now.
I like to think this process is something akin to adding another coat of paint, but I’m not kidding myself. I’ll have the paint stripper out at 7AM tomorrow. As usual.
Whatever… The notebook run through served to re-emphasise the point that you should never go anywhere without a notebook. 9.8 jottings might be shit, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the 0.2 that are less shit that you’re after.
The photo of Ngor island, north Dakar, Senegal was taken by me yesterday. Yes, I did edit at the beach. Not very practical on paper. It was rather windy.
I thought Kigali was possibly the only ultra-dead city in Africa come the weekend. While Dakar is not like silent, hear-a-pin-drop-Kigali, it is surprisingly dead, at least in the downtown area come Saturday. Fortunately, the printer man was open.
After installing the necessary drivers (again) we managed to churn out my 80 sheets, accounting for some 30,000 words, at the exorbitant cost of 11,400 CFA (or about €17.00). Africa can be so bloody expensive, for many reasons, but that’s a different blog post entirely…
Those 30,000 words will need a serious going over by Monday or Tuesday, if they are to result in anything remotely readable.
It is helpful to learn how very successful writers work as I try to figure out how to make it work myself. I listened to this NPR interview with Roald Dahl’s daughter in which she talked about how he worked in a shed in the garden,
“…You would walk in and the smells were so familiar — that very old paper from filing cabinets. And he sat in his mother’s old armchair and then put his feet up on an old leather trunk, and then on top of that he would get into an old down sleeping bag that he would put his legs into to keep him warm.
He then had a board that he made that he would rest on the arms of the armchair as a desk table and on top of that he had cut some billiard felt that was glued on top of it, and it was slightly carved out for where his tummy was. When he sat down … the first thing he did was get a brush and brush the felt on his lap desk so it was all clean. He always had six pencils with an electric sharpener that he would sharpen at the beginning of each session. His work sessions were very strict — he worked from 10 until 12 every day and then again from 3 until 5 every day. And that was it. Even if there was nothing to write he would still, as he would say, “put his bottom on the chair.”” link
And then there is this, in his own words, on how he wrote the classic children’s story Matilda,
The first half is great, about a small girl who can move things with her eyes and about a terrible headmistress who lifts small children up by their hair and hangs them out of upstairs windows by one ear. But I’ve got now to think of a really decent second half. The present one will all be scrapped. Three months work gone out the window, but that’s the way it is. I must have rewritten Charlie [and the Chocolate Factory] five or six times all through and no one knows it.” link
Photo from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.
After weeks spent scratching at pieces of paper, pen in hand and then jabbing at the keyboard. The inevitable.
That "read it all through and my, what a pile of shit that is" feeling.
— Graham Holliday (@noodlepie) November 22, 2013
As they say, “writing is in the rewriting.”
“I hate looking at what I’ve written, believe me. I resist it, even more than I resist the blank page. It makes me nuts to look at a first draft and see how bad it is. But I also know that it’s the only way that something gets better.” link
I have set myself a self-imposed Friday 22 November, 2013 deadline to finish the first draft of the book. There are four sections (10,000 words ish) left to edit or re-write. Then I print it out at the man over the road. Edit it again. Once, possibly twice, maybe thrice more. Then, off it goes, to the filleter in NYC. To do the real editing.
@LaurieWoolever oh, it'll thud alright, by Monday night your time. Of that I am absolutely, almost, certainly certain.
— Graham Holliday (@noodlepie) November 19, 2013
After the writing of the draft is done. I conservatively estimate that I have at least two months more editing to do before the boss gets to see it. Feels great to be able to see the finishing line. Still a long way to go tho.
Photo of my desk earlier this week
This caught my eye. Click through to see the annotated image. I’m on a bit of a quest to find a disconnected writing set up and I had never heard of the Alphasmart 2000, Dana or Neo keyboards before. The small screen might be a deal breaker, however here’s another possible option involving a keyboard and an iPad.
Doing a lot of work on paper obviously helps. In fact I am just about to finish writing my book (hopefully within 7 – 10 days) and I’ve worked exclusively on paper since returning from Vietnam.
How Graham Greene wrote,
Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene. Every now and then during the morning’s work I count what I have done and mark off the hundreds on my manuscript. No printer need make a careful cast-off of my work, for there on the front page is marked the figure — 83,764. When I was young not even a love affair would alter my schedule. A love affair had to begin after lunch, and however late I might be in getting to bed — as long as I slept in my own bed — I would read the morning’s work over and sleep on it. … So much of a novelist’s writing, as I have said, takes place in the unconscious; in those depths the last word is written before the first word appears on paper. We remember the details of our story, we do not invent them. link
Here are the thoughts of one writer who copied the method and wrote exactly five hundred words per day for one week,
My last sentence looked like this:
“The wash basin shattered upon impact, sending tiny shards of porcelain”
I could have gone on. The thought was on the tip of my brain ready to tumble to my fingers and onto the page. I played fair though and stopped. I walked away and tried desperately not to forget what came next. As it turns out, I don’t think I could have forgotten it if I had tried because all I could think about was what came next and even what came after that. Mr. Greene was definitely on to something. link
Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever. link
So true… took me a few months to learn this fact. The counterpoint being; exactly 82.8% of the ideas you have will be total shit.
PD James has some great advice for novel writers in this piece on the BBC. I particularly liked number eight, “Never go anywhere without a notebook”. I’d add to that, never go anywhere without a smartphone (if you have one). Here’s the reason.
If you’re sitting at a tea stall, in a cafe, a bar, on a plane and you whip out your notebook, people look at you suspiciously, maybe they think you’re an arse, freak, gimp or, worse, a journalist. Do it long enough and they may come and ask you what you’re doing. However, tap away in the Notes app on an iPhone and they think you’re texting, tweeting, chatting, you know, doing what the youth do these days. No-one looks twice at you. You’re invisible. I’ve written thousands of words in this way. The illusion is especially useful when you’re trying to describe exactly the shoes, clothes, hair and complexion of the guy sitting next to you. He’s clueless as to what you’re up to. You wouldn’t get away with that with a pen and paper.
Photo taken by me in Kayonza, eastern Rwanda.