Friday, August 10, 2007

Draft Codger

Silk Screen Print by Peter Loveday

Today I finished Draft 4 of my new novel The Full English, a racy tale of ex-pat shenanigans on the Costa del Sol (breakfast not included).

Pause for congratulations.

But it ain’t over yet. It’s good that I’ve finished my first non-rubbish draft but there is still a long way to go. I’ve previously talked about how I rewrite each draft from scratch until I have one that doesn’t need to have every single sentence completely redrafted. I don’t mind so much as I enjoy typing and doing it all again several times is a good way of reminding myself of what is happening over the 100,000 wordscape. My memory isn’t what it was.

I’d forgotten for instance that in Drafts 1-3, I had actually left out three quite important set pieces. I had glossed over the responsibility by glibly inserting things like ‘put bullfight in here’. I knew what the purpose of the set pieces was so the plot advanced as it was supposed to but I still had thirty new pages to write from scratch as well as 250 others to rewrite. In writer terms I’m both a ‘putter inner’ and a ‘taker outer’, so it still ended up 100,000 words long.

Last month Chip Dale wrote an excellent guest piece on Baroque in Hackney on the occasion of completing a first draft of his fourth book. There’s a lot in it I agree with, like this,

‘This is the first thing I think I discovered after years of trying to work out how to write a novel: forget about writing a novel. Forget about the big indistinct Goliath you’re going to create. Just begin to write. Write out a scene, then develop another scene. Create some original characters, some exciting/funny/romantic scenes and play around with the world. Do odd things. Do clich├ęd things. Do things that you didn’t expect. Surprise yourself. Be crazy. Be serious. Do whatever you think fits the moment.’

You’ll never read better advice than that. Chip also thinks you shouldn’t write more than two drafts. He hasn’t seen my early drafts. For me, writing is a joy. I love making up stories and even if they don’t get published, and mine invariably don’t, the pleasure of completion still exists. Plots are better when they unfold and its certainly more fun for the writer to have an open mind about what is going to happen. When I started writing The Full English three and a half years ago, I had no intention of shooting my narrator, but shoot him I did.

Like me, Chip hasn’t found a publisher for his books. It’s not the end of the world but it does mean that the completion cycle is never fully realised and that means that when you approach the end of a book, you brace yourself for the inevitable rejections and marshalling of the mettle to start another one. Like Chip I have neither the ability nor stomach for the long years of writing letters to agents and then publishers. I do it because it must be done. I politely thank people who suggest I self-publish and endure the embarrassment of friends and family who all think I am hopeless. My mother whimpers if I mention that I’m writing. Whimpers! You just have to ignore it and keep going.

I finished my first book A Republic of Angels in 1992 and sent a sample chapter off to Sheba Feminist Press on the recommendation of a friend who had just signed with them. I wrongly assumed since it was about an anarchic young woman playing in an indy pop band and obeying few rules of conventional society that they might be interested. This is how it was rejected,

‘We are unable to accept your work for publication. Possibly a publisher of more Romantic Fiction.’

I think we can safely say it was misunderstood and I can assure you it contained proper sentences, unlike the above extract of my rejection letter. I didn’t bother to try Mills & Boon.

None of the rejections for The Way of the Pear were quite as bizarre although one agent was clearly affronted and informed me very grumpily that the work was not what she was expecting. Sorry dear. Pear is a ‘love it or hate it book’. What more can I say? Quite a lot of people who’ve read it all, including a published writer of my acquaintance, advised turning it into a much more conventional book. I didn’t want to and that could have been to my cost. These are not easy decisions to make but I do think that sometimes the right advice is not necessarily the best advice. There's not much point in writing if you can't trust your own instincts.

Having said that, The Full English is that conventional book so I did take my friend's advice, just with a different book. It's much easier to apply it before you start writing than after. With Pear I wanted to play with language and I wanted an anti-heroine, one who wasn’t predisposed to play by any rules except her own. I prefer my women rebellious. I wanted to write a literary book. I’m over myself now. The Full English is more or less a straight-up thriller cum love story. I like those too. I’ve mentioned before that the next one is going to be a fictionalised account of the life of my garrulous convict ancestor. I like historical fiction also.

I’ll have a few days rest now; perhaps do some washing up or go back to fretting about moving. Then I’ll start on Draft 5. It’s not going to be a rewrite. I’ll just go through it, paragraph by paragraph; a nip here, a tuck there. When that’s done, I’ll post the first chapter here and see how we go.


Reading the Signs said...

If I were round the corner from you I'd come over with a bottle of champagne (though actually I prefer white wine spritzers) to celebrate.

Congratulations, Pants. The most I have ever done is 30,000 of a first draft before leaving it to rest (fatal). I'm looking forward to seeing the chapter posted here.

That's so pants said...

Dearest Signs

Thank you. If I lived around the corner from you, I'd like that very much. How about a synchronised toast, say 8pm?



Writer, Rejected said...

Congrats, pants! It's great to finish, but I think you are wise to gear up for inevitable responses that are less than welcoming from the ridiculous publishing industry. Check out more on the topic of rejections at my blog at

That's so pants said...

Hello Writer, Rejected and welcome.

See how easy it is to make friends of a like mind?

Thanks for the link.



Reading the Signs said...

I'll be there, Pants. Preparing Citron Presse. Ok, home-made lemonade (not as bad as calling shepherd's pie Hachis Parmentier).

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs

Lovely. I'll bring the gin.



Ann O'Dyne said...

A True Writer is
one who just has to do it and
would die if they could not.

evabodee knows
or, it is well-documented that:
publishers are a Confederacy Of Dunces.

Dear Reader, I shot him.

That's so pants said...

Hi Annie

I don't know about dying as I'm also quite happy doing other things and equally happy doing nothing at all but I think you're right. You do have to be driven to spend years of your life on something when there is no guarantee of a payoff.

A Confederacy of Dunces is actually one of my favourite books so I love the reference to that, although poor old John Kennedy Toole did end up topping himself before its publication. The publishers who rejected that were no doubt kicking themselves when it won a Pulitzer. The interesting thing is that publishers were rejecting it in the sixties and it won acclaim in the eighties. They would have needed real vision to see that it would have popular appeal. It's by no means an 'easy' book.

I'm not sure the blame rests entirely with publishers because they presumably do want to make money. I remember talking to a publisher once who said that agents are a considerable part of the problem because they over-filter according to their own tastes and only feed publishers a fairly narrow range of what they think will sell.

Dave Hill published a post recently where he talked about having lunch with his agent and she told him that publishers were only interested in chic lit, misery memoirs and thrillers. I'm not seeing any misery memoirs and chic lit on this year's Booker long list.

I also think booksellers must take some responsibility. In Britain policy changes at Waterstones, the country's most influential bookseller, are blamed for the narrowing of variety. Where once store managers had some say over stock, that decision is now corporate.

Having said all that, I probably shouldn't assume that this new book will be rejected - it is after all a thriller (sort of).



Liz said...

Hi Pants,

Well done on completing your latest draft. After all this honing of your craft, maybe this book will be the one that does get picked up by a publisher.

I once had pretentions of being a writer, the residue of which brought me to the world of blogging. I never even managed to complete the first draft of my great novel, despite buggering about with it for nearly two years. I've just dug out the floppy disk that it is saved on and the word count when I abandoned it several years ago was already at 108,000 - in ability to edit effectively was probably why I gave up. That and a brief creative writing course that destroyed any self-esteem I had left.

I subsequently had a shamefully poor piece of writing published in the BBC Book of the Future and a short comic rhyme published in Acorn magazine. I didn't get paid for either and was not inspired to continue writing.

You clearly have way more creative talent than most of us, but we all know that alone wont get you published. Which is a shame. What you also appear to have is the commitment to keep going with your writing projects until they are completed to your own satisfaction - surely that will earn you some success eventually.

That's so pants said...

Hi Liz

Thanks. I think no one should overlook the possibility that I'm just hopelessly deluded!

Are you sure there's nothing in that 108,000 words? I've left things I've written that I thought were no good and come back to them years later thinking, you know, this isn't half bad and picked it up again. Have a good look. You might be pleasantly surprised.



NMJ said...

Hey Pants, Congrats again & I very much look forward to reading your chapters! I will join you & Signs for some champagne. American writer, Anne Lamott, talks about writing 'bird by bird'. Her brother had years ago tearfully asked their father for advice on a school report on birds, and he had replied, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird'. That is how I write - I find the notion of entire drafts terrifying, I very much wrote my book 'bird by bird', getting the last chapter as good as I could before starting the next. That suited my energy more - an entire book in in one 'go' would not be poss for me, I think you need amazing concentration for that. Once it was finished, I of course re-read several times and tweaked like hell. It was utterly exhausting, not to mention the publishing ups and downs - thankfully and luckily ending on an up. I wrote my book because I had to - for different reasons - but I honestly don't know if I could go through the whole process again. Oh, and I recommend Anne Lamott's book on writing, Bird by Bird.


That's so pants said...


You're right. Everyone has to find a method that works for them. I do pace myself because I can only write for so many hours in the day before I go off. I've learned to stop before that happens.

Bird by bird - love that title. I'll look out for it.



Kris said...


Congratulations and thanks for the advice from you and big Chip.

I am off to the Arvon foundation in September. After all these years of drilling crap into my brains, I am looking forward to the release of the same, or something like that!

That's so pants said...

Hi Kris

Pleasure. I've heard the Arvon courses are fantastic. Never been on one myself. When I've had the money I haven't had the time and vice versa or the one I wanted to go on was full by the time I found out about it etc. I know plenty of people who have been on them and they all rave about them.

Good luck



Wisewebwoman said...

Congrats Pants, well done.
Never give up is our motto.
I like the piece by your friend. So true. I often write little nuggets of scenes and I liken them to a ball of wool, I can spin around them. I've had appallingly hurtful rejections even after submit requests.
However, a short story I had sent out last year and forgotten has zoomed back in the form of a request from the editor in chief of newly combined publishing houses for the entire collection and also chapters from my last novel with an apology for not getting back to me sooner as they were 'bowled over' with the story.
I never, ever expected this.From a short story... Go figure. YEE-HAW!!

Remember dear Pants: We must stay drunk on writing so reality doesn't destroy us.

That's so pants said...


Wonderful news - that's really made my day that has - Congratulations! What a lovely thought that a short story is out there somewhere working its economic little butt off for you. Talk about the little story that could! Proof, if it were ever needed, that the more you send out, the better your chances.



ario said...

I'm going to delurk for a minute here and just say that what I have read of the chapters available from The Way Of The Pear on your other blog I thought most excellent: vivid, melancholy and funny. A rare combination but it works for me :). I wish you all the best of luck for both your books and look forward to reading extracts from The Full English. Kind regards,

That's so pants said...

Hi Ario and welcome

How very kind of you to say - thanks. Come back any time.