This is the story of a story. I don’t know how it ends.
In 2012 I had a miscarriage. The one shining knowledge that had come out of that dark experience was that whatever else happened in my life, I wanted to write.
Earlier that year I’d started a ten months novel and scriptwriting course, and while it was helpful by about month eight I had faltered – I had started something that I couldn’t finish. I couldn’t pull the strands of my story together. I put it down and walked away.
Then, a few months later, after a lot of heartache and with a new resolve, I signed up for Nanowrimo. I made the decision to participate not long before it started, and spent a week planning what I would write.
The stories I had in my head that were shaping how I thought about my story were Picnic at Hanging Rock and Tim Winton’s The Riders. It was to be the story of a girl whose best friend goes missing, her descent into hell as she tries to discover answers to questions that only lead to more questions. It wasn’t going to be a mystery, with neat answers presented at the end, but a story about how little we know about the people we love. It was going to be about unresolved loss and about trying to live without answers.
I called it The Space Between.
Nanowrimo started. I met a bunch of crazy and wonderful people who are still my friends.
I wrote. I wrote fast and hard, lots and lots of words. I wrote and drank and chose a soundtrack to write to: The Vaccines. The Wombats.
I pushed through and on the evening of 30 November 2012 I wrote an ending.
It was terrible. Awful. Embarrassing.
But still, I’d done it. 70,000 words in a month and my first ever terrible first draft complete.
I thought the next bit would be easy. I love editing. It’s something I think I’m good at. I have edited poetry, short stories. I edited my PhD thesis. I can do this, right?
I tried to redraft in early 2013 and found myself unable to fix the things that weren’t working. All I managed to do was somehow break the thing I liked about what I’d done, which was the relentless energy of it, the sense of desperation underlying the narrative.
So I put it aside. Started something else. Came back to it. Tried again.
Still no good.
I try rewriting from a different character’s perspective. I try turning it into a ghost story.
Bad bad bad.
I was still determined. I would make this thing work.
I had another go, later in the year.
Again I broke it and drained it of life.
And then, I gave up. I put the hardcopy in a drawer and consoled myself with the thought that it was Practise for something better, something that I’m yet to write.
Then a whole lot of stuff happened – another Nanowrimo, and then a few months later another more or less finished MS, this one for adults and much darker (if you can believe it!). Then I fell pregnant and had my baby boy. And then – life. Motherhood. Joy and exhaustion and chaos. I start another story and another and another.
But still, somewhere, in the back of my mind, it niggles at me. I know I need to go back. I can’t let it go.
So eventually, a couple of months ago, I sat down and re-read the original draft, the awful mess with the energy I love.
It’s three years since I wrote it.
With space, there are things I like about it, and there are things I don’t like about it. And for the first time I have a real sense of what I need to do.
I drop everything else I’ve been working on. I rewrite. I cut things. I find a tense and stick to it. I whittle down the plotline and add in some scenes that were missing. I delete the ending which I hate.
I stay up till 1am reading through the whole thing, trying to find my way through to the end. It’s terrifying. I feel like I’m never going to be able to finish it. That night I dream that I am sitting in the middle of a circle of people who are grilling me about my story. What’s it about? What’s it really about, they ask?
I try to explain.
When I wake up the next day I have an idea for the ending. I jot down some notes in between feeding and dressing and playing with my son. When eventually he goes down for his nap, I sit down and get to work.
And what I write is nothing like what I have planned.
The ending feels like both less and more. It is not as big, there is no grand denouement. But it feels right. And it shows me something else – the story is about all the things I thought it was about, but most of all it is about love. The love that is left despite everything else. The love that remains.
So now I’ve done some more work and taken the plunge, and sent the story to some readers.
This is terrifying.
I’m waiting for feedback. Waiting to see how far of the mark I am.
I expect that there is still a lot of work to do, and sometimes when I think of it I feel despair. I don’t think the voice of my main character is right yet and that’s a huge thing to try and fix. I have left the story spare and as a result I think there are too many gaps, too much that is unresolved for the reader.
But I’m not giving it up.
I will see what people think then start the work of redrafting.
I’m not letting this one go.
My next few posts will probably be about the next stages of this process – feedback. More revisions. Trying to get my story to where it needs to be.
I will most likely be posting more sporadically, because my main focus is really on the novel right now. I need to give it the concentration it requires.
I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck!