Saturday, February 08, 2014

Memo to Self: Do a Fred Vargas


                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo: Alexandre Isard / Corbis

Just back from a tour of some local charity shops, where I picked up a copy of Fred Vargas's Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand - not one I'd read. I've read a few of her books, and loved their intricate plotting and general strangeness. Inspired to read up a bit about her online, I found a few interviews with her from the last few years where she's mentioned that she writes her first drafts in three weeks flat, and then spends a few months revising.

This reminds me that one of the most dangerous habits a writer can develop is obsessing about detail when writing a first draft. I speak from experience. Quite a while ago, I was writing something set in the C17th, and had a scene set at Xmas. I became completely stuck on what a middlingly-well-to-do household would have eaten for Xmas Dinner. It never occurred to me to just write something in with a view to changing it later ('Yorkshire pudding and roast turkey with lashings of gravy and roast potatoes'). Oh no. I had to find out exactly what would have been on the table. And the end result: my writing ground to a halt.

Now, writing something else, I find the same bad habit looming: how would a C12th person leave a house to someone in a will? Where would a monastery have got its parchment from? Luckily these are issues I've managed to resolve with not too much digression (although mediaeval law is very interesting), but must be on my guard against 'Dutch Xmas Dinner Syndrome'... the need to research at the cost of productivity. Having had one good idea completely grind to a halt over something trivial, I don't want to repeat past mistakes. I suspect Fred Vargas doesn't worry about such things when doing her first drafts in three weeks... 
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