Writing Retreat Wrap-Up

So I’m back from Varuna (and braved the chaos which is returning to work 😉 ) My week away was quite pleasant and productive. I did a reading of my first two chapters, which got a good response. I wrote about 9,000 words, which is less than my usual target of 10,000 in a week, but I was writing poems and not a lot of dialogue. Dialogue almost writes itself and a simple mess-about scene can blow out to 1,000 words quite easily. I’m happy with what I wrote – I had to tackle an emotionally traumatic scene which always leaves me a little drained. I tend to get myself into the mood that I’m writing towards, like a mild form of method acting. The scene that resulted was good, but perhaps not amazing. I might get it on another revision.

Which brings me to my next topic. The biggest thing I got out of the week was a 2am pep talk by some of my fellow writers. I’ve been writing Breathe on and off for four, maybe five years now. I still haven’t finished the first draft. The other writers at the retreat were all in a revision/rewriting stage in their project and strongly encouraged me to ramp up my pace and just get the first draft done. They often say: “The first draft is the author telling themselves the story and finding out what happens, the other revisions are for the readers.” I already know the major scenes I want to bounce through and the general feeling of the ending, but now I’m thinking if I just smash it out, ignoring quality and even the connective tissue of the story, I might get a better understanding of what I want to say and how. I’ve already thought about some significant changes (rewriting the relationship between the protagonist’s parents, shifting a certain plot to earlier in the piece, and modifying a plot twist to make more sense) but I really need to have all the elements at hand before I can tell what really needs to be done. I’m at 72,000 words thus far (which is most of a novel) and retyping that is a little daunting. But nevertheless, I’d like to get the book into some respectable form and better answer the question “So when are you going to publish it?” than my current exasperated “Well I have to finish the first draft before I think about that!”

This sort of sea change is happening across most of my projects. I tend to think big picture AND details long before I even have a usable framework up. In this way, I’m kinda an armchair sculptor – I can talk a lot of interesting ideas, but my practise leaves a bit to be desired. I need to get something up and running, albeit rubbish, just so I can play with the thing and show people something tangible. This is probably right in line with the whole Agile development craze which is so buzzwordy at the moment it’s almost poisonous. But it still makes sense. For now, I’m trying to commit to this idea and see where it takes me. Hopefully it takes me a bit further than five years of slow, detailed but otherwise discardable work.