Once You’ve Learned to Swim

Image courtesy of fortyfootmovie.com – the Forty Foot,one of my favourite bathing places.

What a lovely Bank Holiday Monday, with the sun shining in the open back door, which serves as a window, and a feeling of happy possibility in the air. I might pump up the tyres of my bike, I might footle around on the piano and compose a song, or…who knows.

As for writing – after checking in with my agent that I am on the right track with my plans, I am currently drafting notes for the next novel while the first one is under consideration. It feels strange to be tagging my notes with “first draft” again. First draft discipline is very different from fourth draft discipline. The latter requires meticulous editing, sewing up scenes after deletions and inserts, endlessly tweaking and rewriting and cutting. Not to mention forgetting to get milk, wash dishes, sleep etc.

First draft discipline is simply sticking as many words on the page as possible and blasting through the outline as if one had the engine on – until a favourable wind begins to lift the sail and the little craft takes off under sail power alone and is away on the high seas. I learned from writing White Feathers that the quality of the first draft really isn’t important. It’s the heartbeat from which all the other drafts take their lifeblood. It’s a prolonged introduction to the characters and what they want. I remember thirty thousand words into the first draft I wrote this conversation between the protagonist and this minor character who was only meant to be in one scene. Some people in the informal group I write with said – “hey, we like this guy”.

And the entire story turned left. Left turned out to be the direction it should have been going on in all along, of course, but my writing apprenticeship has been learning that by doing it.

I served my apprenticeship writing that novel. I thought I knew what it was to write before, but to paraphrase St Paul, I was looking through a glass darkly. It was a struggle. I was reading about the wonderful musician Laura Mvula, who was classically trained and struggled to gain recognition as a composer. Then after much rejection and anguish, she sent a demo and got a response. I am deeply in awe of Mvula and am very glad she did not give up. I know the novel I have written has powerful characters, a driving plot and that the reader will care what happens to the three characters therein. I am glad I did not give up either.

This pleasant June bank holiday marks a turning point. After attending a very happy family occasion a week back (and gaining a new brother-in-law in the process) I felt it was a natural break – from completing the MS back in early May to attending the ceremony – that marked a new phase in my life.

John Lennon put it succinctly: “If The Beatles or the 60’s had a message, it was ‘Learn to swim. And once you’ve learned – swim!”

Time to get into the water 🙂

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