Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The End Of The Beginning

It’s no more than a coincidence, but I can’t resist noting that as Cassini makes another pass close to Titan, I’ve finally reached the end of the first draft of the first of two Quiet War novels, with a penultimate scene down on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, in the caldera of a volcano.
It’s been a long haul. The novel is supposed to be around 150,000 words. I seem to have committed 200,000 so far, with a few scenes missing and a couple truncated. But on the whole it’s better to come out long than short. Now it’s cut, cut, cut, and polish, polish, polish. My favourite part of the writing process, if truth be told. Because now I have a first draft with a beginning and an end, and an endless middle, I know that I have a novel. And hopefully, somewhere in this mass of verbiage, there’s something like the novel I had in mind when I started it, good grief, back in October. (I was interrupted by a rewrite and polish of Cowboy Angels after the editing process, but still: one thing I’ve learnt, it doesn’t get any easier.)

Something like . . . Some writers plan everything with ruthless thoroughness before setting out. Others polish one chapter before starting the next, so that when they reach that last full stop, they have, more or less, the finished object. As far as I’m concerned, the first draft is a kind of exploration of the territory within the boundaries set when I first had the idea for the novel. There are things in that territory that are smaller and far more insignificant than I believed them to be when I started out, and other things that have a far greater significance. And then there are the things, to lapse into a brief Rumsfeldian mode, that I didn’t know I knew, and the characters who somehow managed to rewrite their parts to get a lot more time than I thought they would have, way back when. The discoveries that make the long labour worthwhile.


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