Just last week, I announced that I was committing myself to the long overdue transcribing of my first completed work of fiction, thirty years ago, under the title of The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel.
This was intended as a project for 2017, but then I had to take a day off work to be there for the delivery of a set of new pans (I lead a romantic, exhausting life), so I decided to make sure in advance that the paperwork was all in order. This meant hauling the ring-binder down from the top of the bookcase, industriously clearing it of the dust and crap of the accumulated years (I also need a vacuum cleaner that works) and checking that everything was there, and in the right order.
There was a bit more to it than I’d remembered. I’d completely forgotten that the project included a Prologue, and that I had, after the First Draft was done, attempted at least a partial Chapter 1. And, having clearly recalled that I’d written the whole book using a very nice and comfortable blue ballpoint pen, I was disturbed to discover that it had actually been begun with a black fibre-tip pen that I remembered with particular fondness for its smooth and even flow.
And since that didn’t take half as long as I feared, I decided to try a test page.
What was it like? On the physical level, pretty painless. Given that there aren’t any meaningful, easily detectable natural breaks in the flow, I adopted a somewhat unorthodox approach.
The book was written in longhand on A4 lined paper, narrow feint, written on both sides of the paper. Just transcribing a single sheet at a time means I’m ending (and beginning) in the middle of a sentence, but on the other hand, it’s easily manageable. I’ve been doing this for five days now, and it’s working out at an average of about 850 words a sheet, and 35 minutes of typing. Of course, that was when it was 99% narration, but my first sheet of dialogue and conversation still came out at 790 words, and took not much less time to transcribe.
Looking at the sheer volume of paperwork, my guess is that at this rate, it’ll be mid-summer 2017 before I finish, but (so far as I know) I have time.
What about the other side of it? I’m transcribing the works of a version of myself who’s thirty years younger than I am, and whose mind – and whose writing – worked in different ways. How does it feel (as Bob Dylan once so sagely put it)?
It’s certainly not as bad, or as odd, as I was anticipating (so far). ‘He’ is quite a different writer from me, flatter and more serious. ‘He’ has an eye for concrete detail that I’ve rather let slip in the intervening years, but ‘he’ is also prone to overwrite, not in the bad, florid sense (not all the time) but rather out of lack of self-confidence. ‘He’ writes as if he has to nail everything down so that the audience will see it.
To my surprise, there are lines, and even paragraphs, here and there, that show a genuine ability with words. In the main though, it’s pretty workmanlike. I’ve not come across anything (so far) that makes my brain itch to change it on the spot, so transcribing is not a problem. There’s a lot I would change if it were already complerted, mostly drastic cutting, but more interestingly is that I am seeing other angles, other possibilities that ‘he’ wasn’t aware of, that would make a big difference to the story. And I’m already getting curious about where these might lead.
So, the big 2017 literary project has gotten an early kick-off and is so far going well. Your services as an audience, in holding my face to the grindstone, have already been successful. There should not be any need to copious progress reports but, if anything interesting crops up along the way, I’ll keep you posted. Thank you for your contribution.