14-hour Third Draft Self-doubt Blues

At 11.45 last night, after 14 hours of damn-near nonstop work, I finally sent off the third draft of Riptide Heart. It’s taken me so long because I hit a horrible stumbling block. For the first time with this novel, I didn’t know how to develop the story, and for the last week I’ve thought of little else. The stumbling block was as follows:

  1. Character A discovers a piece of information.
  2. Character A tells Character B the piece of information.
  3. Not enough time has elapsed between point 1 and point 2 to be convincing.
  4. Point 1 can’t be moved any earlier in the narrative without gigantic structural changes.
  5. Point 2 can’t be moved any later in the narrative without gigantic structural changes.
  6. Points 1 and 2 are too integrated to be separated without gigantic structural changes.
  7. I was unwilling to make any gigantic structural changes.

I turned it inside out looking for a solution. I tried rewrites, alterations, moving entire chapters – everything. But no matter which way I turned it, I couldn’t make it gel. Nothing felt right, and nothing was working. It made me miserable.

On Monday morning, lovely agent Sue dropped me an email, asking if the manuscript was ready. It wasn’t, but even as I replied, the block dropped away completely. Out of nowhere, I knew exactly what to do.

Yesterday morning, when I started work at 9am, I went straight to point 1, and deleted it. Then I went to point 2, and deleted it. Points 3 through 7 promptly became redundant. After a miserable week of stress spent questioning the novel, questioning myself and questioning the universe, this took me about 20 minutes. I simply hadn’t considered that as an option, and I’d wracked myself hollow trying to find alternatives. With joy in my heart, I set about tidying up the loose ends. My old flow came back in a heartbeat; rather than excising point 1 altogether, a brilliant alternative started shouting from the back of my brain. I made the switch. It worked.

With the last of my structural changes complete, I started, once again, the painstaking process of passing through the novel from start to finish. There’s no short cut to this, but I do it two or three times on every draft. It’s the fine-tuning and the rephrasing – the last check for chronology, for sense, for pace.

I could barely focus by the time I sent the manuscript away. My brain now feels like toffee and I have RSI in my right little finger (which, curiously, is the only finger I don’t use at all in typing, and consequently hovers under tension over the keyboard at all times), but after a week of anxiety, self-doubt and stress over such a small issue, I’m pretty happy with it.

Next up: Sue’s response. We’re getting closer to London Book Fair all the time. If I need to do another draft, it may not be ready for the fair, and I’m so keen for Riptide Heart to be a part. That said, I’d prefer it to be right, rather than merely on time. It’s fantastic to have such a strong editorial input from Conville & Walsh – their constructive, critical feedback is what energises my redrafts. Writing feeds on community, discussion and development.

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