Notes from a Writer’s Life #14

With the second draft of Bleak Waters complete, I’m in that in-between phase, letting the text cool off while I prepare for the edits.

Rewriting Bleak Waters under the watchful eye of my debut novel Badlands.

The second draft is always the one with the most changes, whether that’s plot, character or story structure, but Bleak Waters is another level again.

It was a full re-write, draft one having been scrapped completely when I realised that I was using the wrong main character, so technically I suppose what I’m working with now is draft 1.5.

On reflection, I think re-writing the second draft from scratch was the hardest thing I’ve done writing-wise, but I felt it was essential that I didn’t quit and start something else.

I wanted to. Oh boy, did I want to.

There were days (usually when I’d written myself into a plot-hole) when I wondered why I was bothering, why I was torturing myself telling this story when I could have just moved on to something easier.

In those moments of doubt there were three reasons why I persisted;

1) I believed hard enough in the ideas, the conflict, the drama of the story to see it through to the end.

2) There is no guarantee that another story is going to be any easier, and experience from my younger writing days has shown that giving up on one story makes it easier to give up on the next one when that doesn’t quite go to plan (there’s a whole folder of incomplete novels on my laptop dating from 2006-2013).

3) I had to see this one through if I wasn’t going to repeat the problems I’d faced in those years.

To give a bit of background, in 2006 I wrote a novel called Siblings, which got some positive reviews on a website called YouWriteOn, received great feedback from agents and almost got picked up by a London based independent press. (It was down to Siblings or one other book, and unfortunately for me, they went with the other one).

As Siblings was battling through the query trenches, I started work on a new story called Ruins.

Like Bleak Waters, Ruins was set on the Norfolk Broads, but writing the story was hard. It started as one thing, became something else and never quite worked as either.

So I put it to one side and moved on.

To an unfinished project called Ghosts in the Snow. Which I abandoned for a story called Moonshine, which I abandoned for… you get the idea.

Eventually I stopped writing altogether for a while as life took over, but in 2014, I started again, writing a novel called Half a World Away (which featured a certain red-dreadlocked hippy runaway who would reappear five years later as the protagonist of Badlands).

The idea for Bleak Waters came about in the autumn of 2019, between drafts of Badlands, inspired by my visits to the Norfolk Broads.

When Badlands was accepted for publication, I realised that I needed to knuckle down and complete a follow up.

Partially this was for commercial reasons. If I’m to capitalise on reader interest in Badlands there can’t be a ten year plus gap between completed novels.

The main reason however was to work through my own doubts and creative insecurities.

Siblings was comfortable-ish to work on. So was Badlands. But Bleak Waters couldn’t go the same way as Ruins. A story set on the Norfolk Broads wasn’t going to derail my writing a second time.

Which is why I took the decision to rewrite it from scratch. It had to be done. There was no other choice.

I’m glad I’ve got through it. Whatever it’s faults are, the second draft is better than the first.

And with that draft in hand, I can now start the process of knocking Bleak Waters into shape and making it a worthy follow up to Badlands.

But before I start that, I’m going to have another tinker with Siblings and see if that’s ready for a second tour of duty in the query trenches.

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