My novel’s in a drawer …

nice work badge DSC00129

My novel is in a drawer. I began writing it 18 months ago on an Arvon course at The Hurst (thanks to tutors Jill Dawson and Kathryn Heyman and to the other participants). The theme, story and plot had been in my mind for about a year. I finished the first draft in early December 2012, about four weeks ago. Now the 22 chapters, all 90,000 words are in a drawer. Well, that’s what the how-to-write-a-novel books call it. Actually it is in 22 files on my computer, and in 22 plastic folders slipping about on a shelf in my writing room. There also notes on characters, timelines, newspaper cuttings about my theme, post-it notes to remind me about details I didn’t want to stop for, chapter outlines, scene outlines and in a folder called parking.

What is my novel doing, not in a drawer? It’s resting. Everyone says you should let your first draft rest. Stephen King says it, and, despite never having read a novel by him and avoided most of the films made from his novels, I rate what Stephen King says about writing (in On Writing). Not just writing, but what he says about editing, your strongest critic, paragraphs, readers and resting. Don’t let anyone see it, just rest it.

He had made a parallel with bread being left to prove. I like what he says about writing, but not what he says about novels being like baking bread. I would be seriously worried if my novel started bubbling, smelling rather yeasty and rising gently on its shelf and (even worse) on my computer. And he says you should probably leave it for ‘a minimum of six weeks’. I’ve never left bread to prove for that long, even when I forgot it.

And the purpose of all this is to get a little distance. It is also, as my non-fiction co-author would remind me, to allow time for us to complete our non-fiction project, which we promised to deliver to the publisher in mid-February. She gave me the NICE WORK badge. But there is writing to be done and not on the novel.

Back to my novel-in-a-drawer. Parts of it have been read and commented on by other people: the first and most worked over chapter, because I wanted to see if people reading it would want more. They are the ones who want to read the first draft. So I have my answer about that. And several scenes have been read by fellow-participants in writing classes and groups.  These were always second or third drafts. Comments, reactions, suggestions have been absorbed to make third or fourth drafts. I expect to find unevenness when I return.

But I miss the people in my novel. I like them, their company, their quirks and habits, their interactions and failings. I would like to visit them. Not writing my novel is like watching them on a CCTV camera. I think about them, wonder about them, their hopes, dilemmas. I’d like an update. I’d like a phone call, an email, a text. But they remain incommunicado in the drawer.

My fingers itch to get back to writing. I’m sitting on the bus, say, and I wonder if I’ll catch them talking behind me, a bit like everyone almost reminds you of an ex-lover when you’ve just split up. I know I will have work to do on showing my protagonists’ reactions and feelings. There are some plot issues to sort out – whatever happened to the sister-in-law? I think she died in a car crash, but if she did I didn’t tell the reader. She was sympathetic, so she deserved better. (Not better than the car crash, better than being neglected in her death). And wouldn’t the daughter have what my generation called a love life? Wouldn’t this feature somewhere in the 12 months timespan of the action. And perhaps I should erase one of the twins? And none of these things are my darlings to be killed, which those how-to-write-fiction books tell me Virginia Woolf said is good practice.

So what should I be doing about it while I am not writing my novel? Any suggestions?

7 Comments

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7 Responses to My novel’s in a drawer …

  1. Eileen

    BRILL BRILL BRILL. Will talk to you about this on Wednesday,
    Lots of love
    e
    x

  2. Eileen

    Great – this is fun!

  3. Rose

    Impressive timescale for achieving your first draft! I love your description of both letting it ‘prove’ and missing your characters. This gives a very warm account of the process of allowing breathing space before redrafting with no word of complaint or angst that many writers convey – I’ll pass it on to others! I’d love to read the first chapter – more if you’re allowing that. Am I allowed yet???

    • Caroline

      Hi Rose,
      thanks for your own warm comments. In a few weeks I’ll let you see the first chapter. Ooer!
      Come back again and make more comments please!
      Caroline

      • Rose

        Of course if I’m more accurate, you say you don’t like the bread ‘proving’ analogy but you do like the idea of your novel resting. Also it seems that if it weren’t for the other demands on your writing time you’d happily be back working at it. I think actually there is a kind of pain involved when you can’t finish a creative process such as writing – you have to both hold it in your head, not sever the link which enables part of your mind to be consciously and unconsciously working on it, and yet create that distance which I called a breathing space, which helps you be more objective when reviewing it and redrafting. I think it is difficult – I find it so – to make space for other things that draw on the creative part of your mind when a major creative project is still unfinished, whirring away in the background. I can see that your ‘in a drawer’ image is significant, suggesting that it is out of sight for the moment, safely tucked away but sort of having an independent in-a-drawer life, not dissimilar to the magic potential of wardrobes for children which features in the Narnia stories…maybe.

        • Caroline

          Hi Rose,
          you’ve taken my thinking about the novel into some very helpful corners. You are right, there is pain in not completing a creative process. At the moment my mind is fully engaged on my other – non-fiction – writng project. There have been many creative aspects about that project, but it has got to the stage of final polishing, as we prepare to submit on Monday 18th February. I am getting impatient to be back with the novel. I will admit to having undertaken a smaller creative project while the novel was resting – a short story, the topic of my next post.
          I love your link to Narnia. Especially as I spend about a third of my time in a town famously twinned with Narnia: Totnes!

          Thanks Rose. Great comments.

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