Thursday, February 4, 2016

Back to work: The second draft

A week ago I returned from a six-week tour of Europe. The purpose of my journey was twofold. First, it was a celebration of twenty years of marriage. Second, I was researching my fourth novel which is partly based on the life of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley. The trip was designed to add colour and a little more authenticity to the story. In December, a few weeks before we left, I completed the first draft of this book. My computer hissed then fizzed and expired in a small pouf only moments after I placed the final full-stop on the page. It was a dramatic final punctuation point, I thought, that perfectly reflected my emotional state at the time of completion. Despite my computer’s pyrotechnics, at the time I thought the manuscript was pretty near perfect. Well, as perfect as I was ever going to get it.
Here it is, in all its perfection
It was an extraordinary six weeks (see our family travel blog HERE). By means of plane, train and automobile we crossed England, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, with side steps into France and Austria, and followed the path laid down by Mary and her partner, Percy Bysshe Shelley, on one of their ‘Grand Tours’ 200 years ago. Specifically, it was the tour during which she came up with the idea for Frankenstein.
My son thought Frankenstein's monster was quite charming!
Not only was the trip a fantastic experience for the family, but visiting sites where Mary Shelley lived and worked, places she found inspiring and that were crucial in her development as a writer and as a woman, not only inspired me but forced me to look at my first draft in an entirely different light. About a week into the trip I realised the first draft was far from perfect. In fact, it was exactly what writer Anne Lamott believes all first drafts are – ‘shitty’. A splash of colour was what I was after, but what I got was an entirely new palette.

Was I thrown? Not in the slightest!

With 16,000 kilometres between me and my manuscript, I was overcome with fresh ideas and energised by new possibilities for the manuscript. I took copious and detailed notes, snapped hundreds of photos and wrote new scenes in messy longhand that came to me as I moved forward on my journey. But now I’m back, with my manuscript in front of me, with only centimetres separating us, I am terrified.
Outside Villa Diodati, where Mary was challenged to write a ghost story
I can’t ignore what I saw and learned on the tour. I can’t close the new windows in plot and character that have been opened. The horse has already bolted (I know I’m mixing metaphors here…). So now jet lag has disappeared and the kids are back at school I have to begin the daunting task of redrafting my novel. It’s like the diligent ladies who embroidered the Bayeaux Tapestry tying off their final stitch then saying, ‘I think a darker shade of blue would work better. Let’s unpick it and start again.’

So where do I begin?

At the beginning.

Chapter one. Page one. Paragraph one. Sentence #1. At the very first word.
A side trip into stunning Annecy, in France
Over the next six months I’ll be unstitching scenes, cutting them, shuffling and reshaping them, weaving new threads and varying shades of colour that I discovered during the trip. I’ll be wracking my brain for hours, possibly days, until the perfect word comes to mind, until the various components of a single sentence drop in impeccable alignment. I’ll be creating new scenes and characters and also fleshing out and adding weight to a few of the minor characters who I realised I’ve allowed to starve. I’ll also be trimming back others with whom I’ve been indulgent because they’ve become friends and I liked hanging out with them. I’ll be rewriting dialogue, reading it aloud until I know the words by heart. I’ll be painstakingly examining every stitch, every strand, one scene at a time. I’ll be frustrated then joyful then depressed then, one day down the track, I’ll be satisfied. Fingers crossed.

And when I think draft #2 is perfect?

Draft #3.
By the grave of Percy Bysshe Shelley

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