Thursday, 30 June 2011

When the draft is finished

I’ve just completed the second revision of Mr Stephenson’s Regret, my historical novel about the railway pioneers George and Robert Stephenson. What I need to do now is put it in a drawer (well, not reopen the file) for another six weeks, resisting the temptation to tinker with it in the meantime or to assume it’s finished without that final cleared-head re-read. But it’s as hard as fighting the temptation to check your new-born baby is still breathing in the quiet of the night. 

The sensible thing to do, of course, is to get straight on with something else; stop thinking about the other. But I am unfocused; my mind has no fixed abode. And I’m lazy – no, not quite so much lazy as torpid.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty to do. Next week I have a meeting with a producer in Manchester to talk over some ideas for a radio play. I really need to get these ideas down in writing, at least in summary if not in pitch form; but I can’t impel myself to start it yet (don’t you just hate writing pitches? ). Then there’s my on-going collection of stories to add to. And of course developing ideas for a new novel. If I could just get myself round to doing any  of this… 

What is at the root of this procrastination?  I suppose it’s a combination of lingering on the old project, temporary fatigue, and the tyranny of the blank page. If only I had the discipline of prolific Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, who famously would dot the last dot on one manuscript and immediately pick up a fresh sheet to start on his next if he had not completed his quota for the day. Trollope combined his work as an author with a senior position at the Post Office. He would write on a specially-made portable desk as he travelled on train journeys for his day job. At home he rose at 5.30 am and wrote for three hours, keeping a watch on his desk to ensure he kept to his target of 250 words every fifteen minutes. He also kept a diary recording the number of pages he’d written each day. This part-timer managed an output of 47 published novels. Mind you, in this contemporary cartoon I came across, he seems to have found time for playing with a doll while sitting on some of those books he wrote. 

Anthony Trollope
I don’t think I’ll ever have the discipline of a Trollope, nor the confidence of Shakespeare, who supposedly never bothered with redrafts. It is said that Shakespeare never blotted out a line, though to be fair Ben Jonson’s response to that was, ‘Would he had blotted a thousand’.

Oh, I’ll get round to filling those six weeks with something or other vaguely productive before I start out blotting out some of the lines of Mr Stephenson’s Regret. Come to think of it, I’ve made a start with these 500 words. I knew there was some reason for keeping a blog.


  1. Dear David,

    Putting rather exceptional minds like Trollope, to one side, I think someone quite observant once told me that I was silly to complain of feeling spent, wasted, flat, after a huge heave-ho on a book I was writing. I'd finished a long project and wondered why I wasn't peppy, eager to move on to more exciting pastures.

    The friend scoffed. She pointed out that after crops are harvested, fields lie fallow as to enrich themselves anew before another planting.
    In fact, rotating crops is the way to avoid soil depletion and erosion.

    I liked the analogy, and she further scolded me by saying that even if I were to become as lazy as a lizard on a rock in the noon-day sun, my mind would not be in any idle position.
    For within the writer's mind lurks the urge to create. And, why was I being so hard on myself?

    I listened to her, and I stopped hand-wringing. I needed to rest my mind, and direct my activities to other interests or other kinds of writing.
    And, of course, it was advice well taken, for before I knew it, I was all hopped up once again, brimming with excitement about a new book idea.
    Funnily enough, I rather resisted the need to revisit the manuscript waiting for its polishing. But, once I actually got back to it, I was happy to work. (Never happy, however to do and redo subsequent nit-picky edits with copy editors).

    So, enjoy your time off and have no fear. If you're still breathing, you're still cooking ideas while you sleep. They will land on screen or paper soon enough!

  2. Hi Carol

    Brilliant, well thought-out and superbly expressed comment. Great advice too.