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The End of the Beginning

It is a strange feeling to have finally completed a first draft. I had previously believed that I would have achieved this feat easily ten years ago. Setting aside excuses for my own laziness or for prioritising other things over this one, if I had finished a draft in my early thirties, I am confident that it would not have been anywhere near as good as this one.

I think it's easy for many of us to overlook our own personal development and, instead, focus on personal circumstances. I've recently finished watching the amazing Adam Curtis' 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' documentary series. It is compelling and baffling in equal measure. One of the takeaways from it was how many of our modern emotional phenomena, especially negative ones, come from a sense of powerlessness. We cannot change many of the circumstances we find ourselves in and when we see such blatant cronyism and corruption in the corridors of power, we are angry at the perpetrators but also at ourselves, because we can do very little to change the situation.

What is interesting is how we often fetishize the external and often distant things that happen 'to' us - or people like us. Rarely, do we pause to consider how we as individuals have changed. I purposefully set aside the changes we make in relation to diet, exercise, meditation, and those kind of things because those specifically are still entirely possible or impossible based on your circumstances - family responsibilities, disabilities or physical limitations, wealth and income, space, time, etc.

I can recognise that the things that have changed in me to allow me to be able to complete the first draft are both higher, holistic, birds-eye view things and close, intimate, personal changes. The 'umbrella' and the 'handle', if you like.

I had to make a personal decision to use that time more wisely but not only that but to try and make it work more effectively.

Umbrella changes would be closer to those personal circumstances which are often less in our control. For instance, the two biggest ones might be changing career four years ago into one which brought me into contact with people who are supportive of one another, where I am able to immerse myself in literature with great regularity, and where there is greater security of employment, reducing my own stressors. I cannot control those three things although I did choose to change careers for other reasons, and so the Umbrella changes to my personal development are ones which were present within school life regardless if I was participating in it or not. Another Umbrella change would be an increase in the amount of time available to put the work in; that definitely came from lockdowns one through three! I could have, and I could still, write before or after work. Many people do. I know that though that would be an ideal situation, I don't often feel in the mood to write at those points in the day. In fact, I normally find it very hard to get started and so it can take me 30 minutes or so to get anywhere near to my 'flow'.

Handle changes are those that I can control, perhaps not completely but for the most part. For instance, frustration that I had not accomplished my personal goal came from having the space to think about all kinds things more thoroughly. That frustration is in relation to an entirely personal, constructed ambition. I don't have to write if I don't want to. But I've been told I'm good at it and I enjoy coming up with situations and characters and plots so why not give it a go? My Dad gave me a fantastic present over Christmas 2019. He found a beautiful Mont Blanc Meisterstück ballpoint pen that he had been given several years before and he didn't want it. I thought it would be an awful waste not to use that pen - again, an internal idea without any real external input, other than my admiration for Mont Blanc pens. That was a small spur to get me writing properly again. I mentioned above that an Umbrella change was the increase in time available to write. It is incredibly easy, as I know, to procrastinate and I am holding back from doing so almost all of the time. Or rather prioritising things to do that are fun and only satisfy my own nerdiness or curiosity over tasks that are practical, potentially financially rewarding, necessary, or, in my view, dull. I had to make a personal decision to use that time more wisely but not only that but to try and make it work more effectively.

Ernest Hemingway once said 'There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed'.

Bringing together the additional time I had, even if it was only quantified as the added hour or so a day not used with travelling to and from school, with a recognition that this was an opportunity I did not want to miss, I had to develop strategies that would result in some actual writing. Ernest Hemingway once said 'There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed'. Sometimes it felt almost as draining; sitting, staring, thinking, tweaking the odd phrase from a previous day's work, moving punctuation around, etc.

The three things I figured out which I think are worth sharing are;

  1. Manage Your Flow - whatever the task is that you are doing, some people like to get into the zone and power on as long as the motivation and inspiration lasts. I get it. It's logical. However, I found that I struggled to get started, wasting time to begin with. So, what I decided to do was embrace the struggle but reposition it. I would get into a flow and have imagined exactly what I was going to write next. I would have dialogue and interactions all figured out. I would commit to myself that I would write, say, eight pages. I would stop myself mid-flow, which you can imagine wasn't too difficult with all the different ways I am able to distract myself, and know that I wouldn't struggle to get started the next day because I knew what I wanted to write. That way, when I ran out of steam, I was already several page deep and it became easier to push through, get into a second wave of high performance, and then stop myself.

  2. Set Time Limits - this blog post just shows that when I'm in the right mood, I can write pages and pages for ages and ages. What I did was set myself a timer using the Pomodoro technique (see and say 'Okay, 30 minutes of writing, then a break, then 30 minutes of lesson planning, then a break, 30 more minutes of writing and then a longer break'. It worked because I could be flexible with the timings, depending on what I needed to do that afternoon or evening, when I had live lessons to teach, how much marking I needed to do, and so on. But I decided to take control of it and to use a free tool to help me do it.

  3. Accept The Truth - I can't write creatively without thinking about the deeper messages I want to get across. There are so many Easter Eggs within 'This Bloody Country' that I am tempted to issue a 'Director's Cut' version with footnotes throughout, giving readers the buzz of recognition when they have spotted something hidden within it. However, that's not the reason people might want to read it. They want an enjoyable and interesting story. So, having internally wrestled with a variety of different endings in all kinds of locations, and with varying levels of resolution, I decided that I should focus on the most important thing first; a good story is always better than the most inspiring message. I can only hope that you will agree with me!

Finally, the point of this post was actually to share with you all just how elated I am to have complete the first draft. I have no desire to gloat or to brag (yet) because there is still a little way to go. I have been asked several times when can someone read it or can they buy it from Amazon yet. The next steps are;

1. Choose a couple of agents to pitch the manuscript to. I am working through the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook to identify the most appropriate individuals. This may be a very quick process (if they think it's a very good draft or a very bad one) or it could take a couple of months.

2a. If one of them likes it and agrees to put it in front of publishers, then we'll see whether someone wants to publish it. This can be a very long process too, possibly three to six months.

2b. None of the shortlist of agents is interested and so I will decide to self-publish instead. It would be nice to be able to go into Waterstones and take a selfie with my book but it's not crucial! However, it is extremely easy to self-publish on Amazon, meaning you could get hold of the ebook or a printed copy as easy as any other book. If I go down this route, I will need to get cover art and other elements designed and I've found a great artist based in Italy to work with on this project already.

3. Whichever way it goes, I will be editing the work as there are a few tweaks I have wanted to go back and make. These are not major revisions but are intended to make the characters a little richer, reinforce their motivations, and tidy up any loose ends from plot ideas that vanished as I progressed.

4. I will also be 'recruiting' a small group of beta-readers, who I will ask to read the 'ebook' and give me some feedback. This is a very demanding task so, if I don't ask you, please don't be offended - greet the news with the relief it deserves!

Thanks again for all of your support - signing up to the Newsletter or following me on social media is genuinely appreciated!


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