At nine this morning there were 13 people in our house, all talking and going about their business. Many of them had showed up at 8:00. We’re having our house painted, some people were here to scope out photo ops (for what, I don’t know), etc. etc. etc.
It’s a chaotic time of year at the best of times. In two weeks we fly back to Canada. Wrapping up a half-year of work and books and notes and stuff always sends me into a spin, but this year it is intensified because we’ve put our house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, up for sale, and are building (and designing) a new one here.
We have been living half-the-year in Mexico for close to twenty years. Because we will be moving, I’ve been pruning my selves and closets. Long overdue, true, but it’s harder for a writer of historical fiction, I suspect, and especially for one (like me) who doesn’t throw anything away. In the last week I’ve sent off five or six big boxes of give-aways of out-dated computer equipment and books I know I will no longer need.
Worse, I have stacks of edited drafts in my office lock-up.
As in stacks!
Clutter—or literary archives?
Long ago, in a Margaret Atwood workshop, she told the class: “Don’t throw anything away.” (Dangerous words to tell a hoarder.)
I recently told my good friend Merilyn Simonds that I was going to have to throw out the papers filling up my lock-up and she exclaimed, “Don’t!”
Both Merilyn Simonds and Margaret Atwood are archived. Their papers are picked up every year—sweet!—to be put into their literary archives, lodged in a university library. This is something I have long intended to look into (more on this later, I promise), but for the time being—and perhaps forever—my “literary archives” are basically clutter in the basement of our house in Canada and in my storage lock-up in Mexico.
Sorting and labelling the papers this morning so that at least they can be easily moved to the next lock-up made three things clear about my writing process.
- One: I write lots of drafts.
- Two: I print out lots of drafts.
- Three: I am messy as all get out. (Don’t you love that old expression?)
Do I even want this known? A good question!
Two things I learned, and which I recommend for your literary archives
1) I am very glad that I include the draft number in the footer of each draft. Here is the format I am using now:
Gulland, The Game of Hope, draft 5.5, started April 1, 2015
2) I regret that I haven’t dated the editorial notes I receive, or noted who wrote them. (Of course I thought it was obvious at the time.)
I was amused to see this title page on draft 9.6 of what is now The Shadow Queen:
The title of that novel went through so many evolutions!
Figuring out how to begin writing again
Mixed in with all this is the ongoing frustration of trying to figure out how to proceed with my ever-so-challenging draft 5.4 (i.e. the 4th draft of the 5th draft) of The Game of Hope.
There are many new chapters, new scenes required—intimidating!—and I decided that since life is chaotic, the solution might be to tackle writing in a chaotic way: I will simply write snippets of dialogue and scenes as they come to me, and piece them together later.
Writing new material is always a bit like inching into a pool of very cold water, and because there is so very much to do in this coming-and-going transition period, I have set myself a simple goal: 100 words a day. Once that’s going, I will inch it up.
Update: 316 words today! This is what happens when you set a 100-word-a-day goal. :-)