From Start to Finish
by Lucy Diamond
I finished the first draft of my sixth novel last Friday. I typed ‘The End’ and then, after a bit of cheering and dancing around (thankfully there were no witnesses), I printed out the whole lot – all 110,000 words of it. It’s not ready to send to my agent or editor yet – there are plot holes and typos galore, there’s one new character I just have to squeeze in somewhere, and I’m definitely going to change the ending. Despite all that, this is one of my favourite bits in the entire novel-writing process: when the main story is there in black and white, awaiting an edit and a polish.
When I start a new book, it’s with excitement but some trepidation too. I know I’ve got a long road ahead, and although I’m pretty sure of the destination, I never have a map for that tricky middle section of plot. I am full of optimism though – I enjoy getting to know my characters, and thinking up both their fictional histories and what terrible torment I’m going to put them through. This book is going to be brilliant! I tell myself. All I have to do is write it…
This wave of enthusiasm sees me coasting through the initial chapters but unfortunately once I hit 30,000 words, the doubts creep in. Is my original idea really as good as I first thought? Why won’t these characters do what they’re supposed to? And there’s still so much to write. Will I ever manage to finish it?
“You always go through this,” my husband tells me, and it’s true. So I grit my teeth and plough on, even though I feel like throwing the PC out of the window.
Fortunately, I’m soon rewarded with the halfway point – hurrah! – which is always a fabulous milestone to pass. By now, the plot is full swing and I’m tackling the meaty part of the story. I’m not home and dry yet though. There is always another wobble, usually at around 70,000 words. How am I going to resolve this stupid plot anyway? Who invited those new characters in? Oh, the whole thing is pants, and no one will want to buy it, let alone publish it!
“You always go through this,” my husband tells me again, and pours me wine. This helps.
Now I’m thinking about the plot all the time, even dreaming about it, trying to thrash out the final chapters. And then, as if by magic – and usually when I’m least expecting it – ta-da! The solution reveals itself to me and suddenly I can see the way through.
I love writing the last ten thousand or so words, once I know what’s going to happen and how everything wraps up. I am obsessed with the book at this point and can’t concentrate on anything else other than working doggedly until I finally type The End, two of my favourite words in the English language.
I like to leave a finished manuscript to one side for a week or two, so that I can read the whole thing through completely fresh, armed with my red pen. In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of brand new ideas I need to think about… and then I’ll be off all over again.
Lucy Diamond’s fifth novel, The Beach Cafe, is published by Pan Macmillan next month. Who knows what her sixth novel is going to be called, the author is too busy celebrating finishing the first draft right now. It will be published in 2012 though.