For a while now, I’ve been writing a novel called Bard and posting it, chapter by chapter, on Wattpad. This is a terrifying experience for me, as it’s about five years since I lasted posted anything vaguely novel-length on the internet (some of my Protagonize stories might have edged over 50k, but none of them were nearing 100k the way this is), and in all that time, I don’t think I’ve ever posted something as totally unedited as this, of any length.
When I tell people it’s a first draft they usually assume I’ve at least done a brief pass, but actually, I’m posting each chapter as soon as I finish it, and the closest I get to editing is reading it through to check for typos. It means I’m a bit inconsistent with posting (sometimes I’ll write and post four chapters in a day; sometimes there’ll be a long gap). It also means writing is terrifying.
With this book in particular, I did almost no planning beforehand. Since then, my plotting has mostly been a frantic attempt to paper over cracks I hadn’t expected to be there, and I’ve been aware for about forty thousand words now that I’m hurtling towards an ending without any clue what that ending is going to be. While I’ve been just about steering the book into some semblance of a direction, I have no idea if that’s the right one, and it still feels somewhat out of control.
It’s like walking a tightrope, knowing that various plot points could fail epically and send me crashing down into the depths of reader hatred. Or, alternatively, it’s a long line of dominoes.
For a long time I felt like I was setting up the dominoes, but hadn’t even figured out where the line would finish, let alone when I was going to start knocking them down. Now, they’re all careering into each other, clackclackclackclackclack, going over as you’d hope they would… but there are still various plot points that I think are dominoes set at a slight angle. Either they’ll catch, and take the rest down with them as planned, or they’ll cause the line to swerve and come to an abrupt halt with a load of dominoes/plot points left standing/unresolved.
It is, needless to say, not entirely comfortable as a situation to be in.
I am a pantser. I’ve always been a pantser. I try and write detailed outlines and I fail entirely at following them. I write eight-book series in the wrong order because that’s the only way I can figure out in advance what happens at the end, and even then I end up rewriting everything to take into account earlier changes. I keep plot threads gathered precariously in my head, never commit them to paper, and ultimately lose a few on the way. I think it’s one of the reasons I end up writing so many drafts — my first drafts are usually okay in terms of writing style, but appalling in terms of plot.
With Bard, I think posting it online was my downfall. Because I was only thinking as far as each chapter, I took a very episodic approach, and spent way too long focusing on smaller events without thinking about the overarching plot until I’d already got seventy thousand words into the book. Even so, this book’s not as much a mess as many of my first drafts — it’s just that most people never see those.
I’ve written entire books in a week; this one’s taken me considerably longer, although I did write the NaNo standard of 50,000 words during April, so it’s as fast as some others. The thing is that my first drafts — or, as some people call them, zero drafts — usually languish in a hard drive, read only by a couple of beta readers, until I can be bothered to edit them. Some of them are still in that stage.
Whereas Bard is immediately out there. Available. Being read, by friends and by strangers. It doesn’t have a huge following; it’s not exactly Wattpad’s hottest new story, probably because it’s weird and dark and nothing like I intended and oh, it’s also a first draft. But it has a handful of readers, some of them regular commenters and others silent, occasionally appearing out of the woodwork to berate me for hurting a character they liked.
I have created expectations in setting up these dominoes, and if I fail to knock them over, this will not be a matter for two beta readers to say, “Yeah, that needs work in the next draft,” but a very real disappointment for those who have patiently slogged through the entire thing in real time on the internet.
I started posting Bard on 13th March. Some people have been with it since then. I owe it to them to knock over at least most of the dominoes.
I have written this story on my laptop at home, on the PC at work during quiet periods, on my tablet on a train to and from Exeter, in notebooks in Canada and in my own back garden — and that piecemeal approach has shaped how I’ve thought about it and how I’ve plotted it. It’s a mess. It’s a mess I’m still pretty proud of, but it’s a mess. I know that.
I’m in the final stages now. I passed the 90k mark this evening, which means I really need to work on wrapping things up before it gets too long. I’m aiming to finish it this week, because I think if I take any longer to untangle these plot threads they will snap. And I’m desperately, desperately hoping that I will knock over all those dominoes.
This must be what it feels like to release a sequel to a highly-anticipated book. I’m beginning to regret posting this in such an immediate way. But the knowledge that I have actual humans waiting to know what happens is the only reason I’ve kept going with this book even when I’ve been tempted by other projects or taunted by my brain into giving up. Posting it has held me accountable.
Which is why I started doing it in the first place, so I’m going to count this experiment as a success.
If any of you would like to join my Wattpad readers and see the final stages of this domino line come crashing down, then I would be honoured to knock them over with you. Things are happening, people. I’d love for you to be there.