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The First Draft Blues (or, getting some suffering into your art…)

Just finished the first draft of The Sunsurge Quartet, Book Three – with a working title of Hearts of Ice. Technically its actually first draft version 4.2, having survived a couple of substantial revisions and downsizing. At times it got very big (300,000 words +) but ended up slimmed down to 220,000, which is standard for the series. But the real landmark is that I met my deadline of 31 July, to get it to my test readers.

Basically, the test readers need two months (being busy people who (unaccountably) don’t just sit around reading David Books); then I need two months to process what they say, and revise, revise, revise. As the actual contractual deadline is 30 November; the end of July is the logical first draft deadline.

The last few weeks are always grueling – I kind of forget to exercise, leave the office, eat properly, sleep properly, etc. I get fixated on plot and character problems. I wake up in the middle of the night realizing that I’ve messed up this or that story thread, due to the complexities of magic or whatever. I get ulcers in my mouth and styes in my eyes. I tune out of conversations while trying to fix a problem scene. I humbly apologize to Kerry (and everyone else) that has to put up with me when I’m in that zone. I don’t know how I’d do this if I didn’t have such a supportive wife, and friends.

Just to be clear, I’m talking about the FUN part of writing – the first draft when everything is fresh and new and exciting. Later drafts are mostly edits and re-writes, and not so much fun at all. Even the most likable characters become poor company when you’re locked in a room (in your head) with them for three months, as I’ve just been. “Kill your Darlings”? They’re not my bloody darlings, by the time the book’s done! Though I did revive one the other day, necessitating a major thread rewrite, when they convinced me that their best pages were still before them at 4am last Thursday.

The problem with doing things that are by nature obsessive – is that you get obsessed. I’m really looking forward to NOT DOING TOO MUCH for a week or two. I’ve still got projects I have to keep ticking over, but they don’t require the same intensity.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining? I’m not, not at all. This is happily self-inflicted, after all. I’m doing this to myself, because I love it.

And by way of a shout out; huge thanks to my test readers (for this book, that’s Kerry, Heather, Cath and Paul). I do rely on their opinions and judgements, their gut reactions and thoughtful considerings. Without them, my books would be much inferior; and I’m especially thankful that they’re able to tell it like it is when there’s a problem, knowing I’ll deal with it and that I appreciate the honesty. That’s true friendship.

So, onwards to New Zealand for a few weeks, visiting friends and family, culminating in the NZ Children’s & YA Book Awards, where my book 1916: Dig for Victory is a finalist this year. And recharging my batteries! They need it!

DH, Bangkok


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