The Quotidian QWERTYUIOP

December 6th, 2014: a wonderful day. I wrote “The End” on the first draft of my fantasy novel, provisionally titled Tsifira. It was the culmination of (cough) years of work. But the work was only beginning…

Gerard ter Borch - Die Briefschreiberin (Schwester Gesine)

After spending six months on another project to clear my mind, I turned my attention to redrafting Tsifira. (I feel a bit silly calling it that, since that is the one title I can pretty much guarantee the finished book won’t have, but there it is. Working title.)

To prepare for the epic task, I had a week off, and then spent three or four weeks reading up craft books and taking notes on how to tackle it. And then I began.

Since I think best in long-hand, I had written the whole novel that way: filling seven 120-page exercise books. (Next time I shall just buy a ream or two and be done with it. I can count quires instead of volumes.) Typing it up, I assumed, would be a mere formality, a prelude to the actual work. After all, anyone can type.

ninja typist

Cats use hunt-and-peck; or rather, hunt-and-pounce.

I had reckoned without the sheer bulk of the thing. I can type up the text three to four times as fast as I wrote it, but…
I did the maths. Six pages was an average day working long-hand; twenty is a good day typing up. Seven 120-page exercise books contain 840 pages. Divide by 20 (pages per day) and that’s 42.

42 working days to type up the novel. Doesn’t sound like a lot, until you call it eight and a half weeks, and drop eye surgery in the middle of it.

Or, to look at it another way, since my typing speed is 60wpm, and the manuscript is approximately 158,840 words, typing it up should take about 2,647 minutes (and twenty seconds) – a little over 44 hours. That’s less than two days! assuming I don’t stop for tea, sleep, turning the page, or trying to figure out what exactly that squiggle says.

Sir Thomas More Hand D

Suffice it to say that I began the typing up on the 29th of July, and I still have two and a half volumes to type. I am hoping to finish the lot by the end of October. I am also hoping never to write any draft so long again. I have finally understood the brilliance of early writers who did most of the drafting in their head, and only wrote down something already shaped as close as possible to the final form.

But every time I find myself frustrated by how long this process is taking, I remind myself that I have learnt a massive amount through it, and will no doubt learn more before I have finished with it.
And then I carry on typing.

The End

Today I wrote those magic words: The End.

Little Gray Mouse - The End (67)

I’ve been working on this particular WIP since before I started this blog, so long I can’t even remember when I first had the dream that started it.

This isn’t actually the first draft as such, it’s the first full draft. The first first draft (with its many rewritten beginnings and approximate word-count of 27,387) lay down and died of apathy in June last year, and by that October I was ready to hit the road running, having taken some time to plan.

Admittedly, I did at that point think I could finish the first draft by the end of the year while working full-time. I did finish it by the end of the year, just not that year.

The reason it took so long is that it is so long: the approximate final word-count was 158,840 words. Yup. One hundred and fifty-eight thousand, eight hundred and forty. There are languages with fewer words than that.

Dicti indent

The reason for this length, I suspect, is that I wrote down everything. Screeds of stuff that I know won’t be in the final draft, details that are inessential to the plot, but all things that I needed to know. I couldn’t just write “She climbed the cliff-face,” I had to know each hand- and foot-hold. (And now that I know, I can edit them out.)

That’s one of the many insights I’ve had about myself as a writer during the course of this draft. There have been a few.

I work best in big chunks, since it takes me so long to pick up the threads.

A short stint is more fruitful than nothing, but more frustrating (see above).

Inspiration can strike at any time, but a pen acts as a lightning rod. A pen in the hand, that is. Lightning rods don’t lie flat.

I need to re-learn the mechanics of writing, so my wrist and hand don’t start to ache after six pages or so.

When I’m writing, I often appear to be staring out the window. I don’t always see what’s happening outside. (I brake break for posties!)

Woman staring out window (4)

Once I know exactly what happens next, I can hit speeds that surprise even me: yesterday I wrote eighteen pages. Long-hand. In the last week, I wrote over fifty pages, forty-two of them in three days. (Yes, my wrist hurts.)

According to some, the current length is “epic”, although I’m sure it’ll be much smaller once I’ve finished the doubtless epic series of rewrites that lie ahead of me.
But not just yet. I think I’ll potter for the rest of the month, and probably work on something else first in the new year, just to give myself the distance that lends perspective.

And to celebrate my “epic” achievement, I’m going to invest in a brand-new shiny fountain pen, just like I promised myself.

I’m Diving In

Diving @ Skraca Bay, 60 fathoms

This is me.

Figuratively speaking, of course. I’m not crazy enough to jump off a cliff – looking at you, Bella Swan.

What is it with young women named Swan/n and plummeting off cliffs, anyway? Bella Swan does it. Elizabeth Swann does it. All right, it was more accidental in her case, but really, if you’re feeling faint, must you stand so close to the edge?
Do people named Swan(n) have natural urges to do swan dives?

Swan dive

Readers’ replies appreciated, especially if they’re named Swan(n).

The Inksteyne name, I am happy to report, does not come with cliff-diving tendencies, at least so far as actual cliffs are concerned. I can live without the feeling that my entrails are about to be squeezed out through my nose by the invisible hand of the sea.

Rather, I intend to dive off a cliff of blank pages into a sea of ink. (Let us hope I don’t get sliced to ribbons by paper cuts on the way down.)

Pen and Ink Test

Which is to say, tomorrow I begin my “first” draft in earnest. To finish something novel-length by the end of the year, I need to write about 6,000 words each week. That’s about 25 handwritten double-spaced A4 pages.

Can I write that many thousands of words in a day? Will my story plan hold up? Will I still have the use of my left hand by nightfall? Only time will tell…

…and your correspondent, who will report back within the week, even if she has to turn right-handed to do it.

Until then, dear reader, I remain
yours on the left,
Sinistra Inksteyne hand250