I recently read Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life and thoroughly enjoyed it. The life of Ursula is repeated throughout the novel and each time it replays, her various choices and outcomes lead her down different paths. It’s like a butterfly effect, the recuperations of one seemingly inconsequential life rippling into countless others. Ursula has the sense of deja vu, but no conscious ability to remember a past life, rather she does something different in a specific moment and it alters the whole path of her future life.
Reading this novel reminds me of the feat of writing one. If I’d titled a novel Draft after Draft it would go something like this:
Write opening chapter. Appalling. No grab. Characters asking me who they are all the time. Ditch it.
Write opening chapter again. No better. Writing style undeveloped. Words fail to materialise. Blindly rely on thesaurus. Falter. Ditch it.
Write opening chapter, then next one. A bolshie character is shouting at me. Telling me what to do. Yeah, it’s working….. perhaps not… the rest of the ensemble of wandering around waiting to be written. Poking holes here and there. Characters disintegrate. ditch it.
I make it to chapter three, it’s getting a head of steam. Chapter four. Chapter five. Major plot failure. Why didn’t I see that coming? Ditch it.
Jump to middle of book. Lose the thread of who is who. Keep checking scrawled notes. Read countless blogs about how to write a novel. Realise doing it ALL WRONG. Head explodes. Ditch it.
Try something different to break writer’s block. Write the last chapter. Except, miserable characters beg to be killed off – they’re shells with no personality, no back story. Ditch it.
Start first chapter again. Totally different plot. Pantser it. Roll with it. Story arc is swerving all over the place. Flounder. Grind to a halt. Not my style – making it up as I go along. Leave that to Indiana Jones. Need an outline. Buy novel writing software. Spend ages watching tutorials, tweaking fonts, fussing about layout… nothing written for days and days.
Try writing the end again. Working backwards, concentrate on plot. Theme crumbles. Losing the will to write. Emotionally drained. Ditch it.
Take a long break. Read a ton of books. Write short stories. Tell everyone the book is going well. Lie.
Deep breath. Open blank file.
Revisit beginning. Introduce new characters, new plot threads. Keeping the faith, building confidence, finally flowing, can’t write fast enough, on a high. Life is good.
End result – big fat book.
Sequel entitled – Edit after Edit.