The Demon Draft is Done

July 12, 2018

It is done! I’ve FINALLY finished the first draft of The Caves of Tavannar, part one of The Crystal Keeper. 😀 Which means I now have a rough draft of book one and a near final draft of book two,The Book of Seven. There’s still a mountain of work to do before both novels will be ready to publish, but at least I’m moving in the right direction, albeit mortifyingly slowly.

So why I am not solo-congaing around my desk with Maracas, slurping Pina Colada through the straw of my Carmen Miranda fruit headpiece to celebrate this hard-earned achievement?

I would, if my gruelling journey through the Devil’s Anus hadn’t stretched my body thinner than a slice of pastrami and my brain to the size of a walnut. Or at least that’s how writing this draft has felt.

Loki thinks he’s had it tough. I’ve been falling through this soul-crushing black hole for 20 months, you puny God!

20 months?! No way.

Way. 😳

Mock me, berate me, pelt me with rotten apples, I know that’s an insane amount of time to labour over a first draft. I could probably have sailed around the globe in half that time, returning home tanned, two stone lighter and feeling epic instead of sitting hunched in the darkness of my writer’s cave, becoming more and more bent out of shape from playing torture Twister with my self-destructive demons every day for the last two years.

I could blame this woeful lack of productivity on life, the universe and everything in between – a family bereavement, a stressful house renovation, adding chauffeur to my never-ending list of motherly duties, the invisible bastard, bad karma from some heinous deed in a past life, the auspicious Year of the Dog (not!) – but I won’t. Because I’m supposed to be a grown-up. A 47-year-old grown up, who should know better than to shift the blame elsewhere.

Life isn’t the culprit here. And neither is the God of Mischief or his twisted IB sidekick. 👿

I am.

Or rather, my screwed-up brain is.

For letting my inner critic hold me back and stomp mercilessly on my creative voice when it should have been galloping wild and free across the Plain of Imagination. I know a first draft isn’t the time for perfecting a story. It’s about building the backbone of the plot, fleshing out the characters and the world you’re living out in your head. But most of all, it’s about putting words on a blank page.

Any words.

I know all of this, but no matter how hard I pulled and pleaded and cursed, the hard-wired perfectionist part of my brain refused to let go of the reins.

This of course never happened when I first set sail for Galidom over 10 looooong years ago, without a map or a clue. Mainly because my inner critic didn’t exist back then. I was writing in a deluded bubble of creative bliss, otherwise known in the field of psychology as the Dunning-Kruger effect: a type of cognitive bias in which people rate their competence higher than it actually is. I didn’t have the self-awareness to recognise how badly my very first manuscript sucked, or the technical knowhow to improve it.

Now that ‘The Sleeper Has Awakened’ to coin Frank Herbert, she won’t shut up!

Ignoring her didn’t work, and neither did negotiating. I even resorted to drugging her coffee to get a few hours of peace. When that had no effect, I was forced to tie her up in my sons’ dilapidated, bug-infested tree house, but like the frickin’ Terminator, she still kept coming back. Only this time, she brought the evil dead with her to suck out the last tattered shreds of my soul.

The end result being, I’ve questioned, scrutinised, doubted, agonised over every word, sentence, paragraph, scene and chapter of this book. Whenever I found myself stuck, I’d sit for days, sometimes weeks at a time, beating my head against the keyboard determined to fix whatever my gut was telling me wasn’t working. Or, let myself get drawn down a research rabbit hole instead of simply moving onto to a different POV chapter. I stupidly believed that if I didn’t write chronologically the chapters wouldn’t tie together cohesively. But at this stage of drafting, it really doesn’t matter a hoot in what order you write. Lesson learned and understood for the next book.

Sometimes I could push through the mental fog, but more often than not I had to force myself to go and do something mindless until the path became clear and I could find my flow again. Sadly, compared to writing the draft for book two, these blissful moments have been few and far between.

While the process has definitely been painfully slow, I have found that by giving both my story and skill level the necessary time to grow, the trilogy has matured from a weak, tasteless blend into a pretty decent 10-year-old Malt. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, which is why I won’t be uncorking the first bottle until the second half of next year.

The other thing I’ve sweated something stupid over is my word count. As an indie author, I’m not bound by the conventions of traditional publishers, but I am still conscious of publishing costs and meeting readers’ expectations. And so, the more I wrote the worse my neurosis grew. Even though I told myself I could chop away to my heart’s content later, I couldn’t stop obsessing over – not just words – but the fundamentals of the story’s Three-Act structure.

Had I started and finished in the right place? Was the resolution too long after the climax? Was there too much unnecessary exposition? Did the subplots add or detract from the main plot?  By the time I typed the last 157,554thword of chapter 56 I was on the verge of a nuclear meltdown.

I’d anticipated from the outset this would be a hefty book compared to the original 2013 edition. In order to give the story the epic scope it needed, I’ve added new POV characters (four instead of one), new subplots, more juicy layers to the cultures, history and mythology of Galidom, more conflict, more fierceness, more of everything really.

This new draft is also the cleanest I’ve written so far, although I didn’t expect it to turn into such a monster Scooby sandwich. My estimation of it being a similar length to the second book was off by at least 20,000 words. Gah! But then Maths has always been my Achilles’ heel. Oh well, at least I’ll have rock solid biceps by the time my axe has cut it down to size.

I think it was around the three-quarter mark when I decided No. I’m done. I can’t write another word.

I might not have, if my tenacious MC Josie hadn’t dragged me up by my bootstraps and yelled in my ear, ‘You bloody will! You’re not leaving me here to die in this hellhole.’

And so together we crawled on by our bloody fingertips out of the pitch-black Caves of Tavannar, finally collapsing against a milestone that read: Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.

‘You’ve got to be kidding?’ we wailed in despair.

At which point, my inner critic reared her ugly head from behind the stone and said, ‘Karma, girls. That’s what you get for holding me prisoner for months.’ Then, smiling thinly, added, ‘See you when you get out.’

Resilient pros that we are, we replied, ‘Bring it on, Sister.’

I’ve learned some hard lessons over the course of this long and torturous journey (some I never wish to repeat), but the most valuable one is this:

There’s only One voice you should listen to. The one you trust, the one who believes and one who never gives up.

Your demons can only hold you back if you stop. My characters taught me that. Shame it took them to the last chapter to tell me. 😉

And so it’s to you awesome guys I dedicate this song from The Greatest Showman. It got me through me some dark times and is THE perfect song to finish The Caves of Tavannar, Volume I soundtrack.

For here on in, it’s forwards all the way!

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