June 2011

The first Draft

I’ve just finished the first draft of my new novel, Maria and the Admiral. This could be a moment for a touch of self-congratulation. Whatever the quality, at least there are the words, about 120,000 of them. Certainly there is amazement: however did I sustain writing this story over two years (many more years, if you include thought and research) and write the final sentence? Even though it isn’t the final sentence. Maybe. Very probably. Or maybe it is.

Here’s the rub. When I was producing babies and books, I used to refer to my books as if they were my babies. But whoever heard of a first draft of a baby? Emergencies aside, babies tend to come as the finished product. Books come in stages. And the most terrifying of all is the first draft.

Here is exposed for the first time all the weaknesses of the novel: the character who turns into someone else, the plot-line that heads off nowhere, the symbolism that would be better off in a poem. All these things could be excused or disguised from myself when it was an unfinished work but once there is a final sentence, however unfinal it may turn out to be, I must turn myself into a ruthless predator, ready to swoop down without mercy on all the weak and failing elements.

Looked at from this point of view, first drafts are less a time for pride and more a time for agony.