With the 1st of November fast approaching, I am busy planning my novel and fleshing out characters. I already have a hypnotist called Derren Domino and a bank manager with a fertility problem.
Even with my limited skills in Mathematics, I have calculated that to complete 50 000 words in 30 days requires a daily output of approximately 1 700 words. So how do I plan to achieve this?
First, before anyone quotes the old cliché at me, I will write – as quickly as I can! The challenge is to reach the word count. It’s not about producing a polished, publishable draft. So the ‘internal editor’ will be turned off; the temptation to change a word here or correct a mistake there will be resisted. The drive forward will be relentless.
Second, I will produce a plan. ‘Why?’ I hear my select group of blog followers say. ‘Doesn’t planning stifle your creativity?’ E.M. Forster certainly thought so. He was adamant that a novel should be left to find its own path. But I’ve read A Passage to India and, as much as I enjoyed it, it didn’t set my literary world alight. P.G. Wodehouse, on the other hand, wrote extensive notes – sometimes four-hundred pages worth – before he began writing a novel. Having read some of Bertie’s exploits and knowing the extent to which Wodehouse enjoyed language play, it’s easy to see why he insisted on such detailed planning.
In short, planning is a personal preference. And mine is to plan. I certainly won’t be producing the amount of notes that Wodehouse produced. But I will have all the major plot points mapped out briefly on a mind map. Things may change as I begin to write, of course, but with the whole challenge being about reaching the required word count, I will not have the time to stop and think, ‘Where is this going next?’
I always encourage my students to plan their writing, regardless of whether they are writing a story or an academic essay. But planning isn’t writing. Once the first draft has been completed, once there is a unified whole to work with, then the real work can begin: editing and rewriting.
In my view, it is a lack of editing and rewriting that has created the modern perception that standards in writing have dropped. When we send an email or a text, it is nearly always the first draft that we send. We don’t often leave an email in draft form for a few days, hours or even minutes, then return to it later to proofread and edit with a fresh pair of eyes. We send it immediately, as it was first created, as it left our turbulent minds, mistakes and all.
Ernest Hemingway once said that ‘The first draft of anything is…’ – well, you can guess the rest, but it’s along the lines of not very good! The secret of good writing – whether it’s creative fiction, academic writing or writing for work purposes – is proofreading, editing and rewriting.
Formula: Good writing = 1% inspiration (1st draft), 99% perspiration (2nd draft).