Writer In Motion – First Draft

Title in white on greyscale laptop and notebook on a desk

Throughout August (and a little beyond), Writer in Motion is challenging writers to write a <1000 word story based on a prompt, and I’m taking part! If you want to find out more about Writer In Motion, click here.

Here it is, the one I’ve been dreading… I have to post my first draft, no edits or anything. I hate sharing unedited work, as I’m a perfectionist by nature.

Before you read on, I’m going to put up a content warning for grief and loss.

To stave off posting, I’m going to start by showing my outlining process. I am very much a planner, so I like detailed outlines, scene beat by scene beat. It might, and often does, change about when I write it in full, but I tend not to veer too far from it when I draft.

As this is a general fiction piece, and very short, I’m paying a lot more attention than I usually would to the emotions in the outline. Character work is the trickiest bit for me, so in a normal project I’d work on the plot first and then deal with character progression later (which means fitting it around the plot). I don’t have that much time, and this is far more character-centric than I like, so character work from the start.

Approach cabin – brief description. Tired, numb.

Turn generator on, climb into bed. Good it’s a single. Ever brought partner? No. Stop thought part way through.

Wake up – chilly.

What to do? Only old bird watching books and a battered bible.

Phone? No – point is to get away. No phone signal so high up anyway. Probably going to be lots of messages of condolence and don’t want. Forgot charger, got an alarm for when need to lead so airplane mode.  Just there sitting waiting – like you.

Go and sit outside, drink it all in. doze off

Someone from nearby village brings food. Know her, but can’t recall name. can’t muster talking. No refrigeration so probably daily occurrence – family checking in, didn’t think it would be a good idea to come.

Time passes – how much? Pick up bird book and watch the birds. Learn about them. One comes back every time. Description time

Read a psalm (start of 69). Sob. It makes sense, felt. There’s more but can’t go on, not now. There is more, psalmist found more, but grief has stages, you know that. Stages take time. For now this is the stage. Can come back another day to continue.

Sit and watch sunrise – hopeful/bittersweet

Yeah, it’s quite a long outline (200 words when the whole thing needs to be under 1000 words), but I tend to write long and detailed. I haven’t followed it exactly – there was a lot of mental re-calibration as I went, chopping and changing the later bits as I realised just how long it was getting. it needs a lot of trimming. (It’s 1530 words)

As you can see, I’ve settled on the loss being a spouse who’s passed, because I didn’t want it to be too close to my own. However, it is a very personal story and reflection, though, which is why I put a psalm in. It’s the opening of Psalm 69, and the title is the first half of verse 14. While it is a psalm about persecution, I find it speaks to grief too.

Screenshot of two word documents open side by side

With this project, I am trying to have seperate documents for every draft. Usually I overwrite and lose previous drafts with every edit round. Even though my progress will be tracked on here, it’s a habit I want to break, so I am saving every draft seperately, including the outline. But I need the outline to write. I have a rather large laptop screen, which means I can split my screen and have the plan on the left (usually it goes below and I delete each point as I write it.

I listen to music as I write – classical or film scores. I can’t have words, but I need something to basically drown out the rest of the world. Given I’m writing this on Tuesday 4th, and also because it’s the most reflective, sad music I have that has no words, I’ve got the Redfield Ensemble’s Chamber Music arrangement of the music from Twilight (Spotify, couldn’t find youtube). It’s different to the original music. I’m not a big Twilight fan, but I love chamber music.

Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink

You approach the cabin with the setting sun. It’s always setting on arrival; never rising, never hanging high. A place frozen in a time, waiting for a witness to fall back into the march of hours, days, seasons.

Thighs cramping from the long climb, you stop a moment. Sun on your back, not warm but not unpleasantly cold either. Shadow lengthening out before you, darkening the gorse.

The cabin is a dirty gold, squatting among the blue and green. Dark green plants, blue-green hills beyond, grey-blue sky above. Time weathers its concrete sides, like a toddler’s inescapable handprints marring every inch of wall they can touch. The shutters were once a bright red, now a dull maroon mottled with pale wood where someone’s fixed it too many times.

You trudge the last fifty meters, feet acting on instinct. Tiptoe then scrabble inside the hollow metal pole for the key. The lock rusts as you fight it. Shoulder the creaking door open and sling your bag on the bed. The springs give the faintest squeak of protest, too tired to complain or bend much.

One concrete floor dipped and worn by time. Four concrete walls tacked with faded pictures of what might be people. Time’s erased their faces to pale blobs. There are wooden shelves carrying dusty tin mugs and battered plates. A table and some rickety chairs, a metal water filter on the edge. Empty, of course, and no tap. But there’s a spring someone about. You’ll deal with that tomorrow.

The roof is corrugated metal, falling and rising above you in frozen waves. Noisy when the rain comes, but it’s not supposed to. You think. Didn’t someone mention the weather when you got onto the single carriage train that winds through the valleys?

You’re not sure you’ll notice if it rains.

And that’s the whole cabin. Sparse, minimalist. No sheets, no curtains – nothing soft. But it’s quiet. No people asking how you are, if you want anything, their well-meaning thoughts drowning out your own, deafening in their persistence.

It’s dark though. Trudge back out, open the little shed and peer at the generator, the jerry can of petrol besides it. It’s full, like uncle said he’d ensure. Tip some in the top and the sharp, grassy, chocking smell wraps around you as you look for an on switch or something. Can’t be too hard, right? You tug the cord, turn a few dials then yank again and it rumbles to life.

There are a few sleeping bags in the drawers under the bed. They smell fusty, but you make a nest on the bed, shuck your bra, glasses onto a shelf, and climb in. Single bed – good. Did you every bring–?

You stop the thought right there. Turn to face the wall so you can’t see the empty room, the second camp bed folded up against the wall.

It’s the cold that wakes you, and the pressure on your bladder. Grab a jumper and stuff your feet into boots, clinging to the warm, slightly gritty tired haze as you stumble out to the outhouse. Just a wooden bench over a hole deep into the ground. Cousin’s always talking about installing a proper composting toilet, but no one comes here enough. The bog is more than half a century old and it’s far from full. You drop wood chips down once you’re done, squirt some anti-back from the bottle.

You should wash – that’s what people do – but that means stumbling over the next valley with a container for water. Cousin’s also been talking about laying pipes to bring that water closer but Ti– You stop again. Can’t think the name.

Now what to do? You’re not hungry – you don’t think you packed food. You dig through your bag, a random assortment of clothes under the washbag mum remembered.

Your phone winks sleek and grey, but you forgot the charger and the plug socket is dangling from the wall. No signal anyway and the point was to get away. If you get any signal, it’ll just ping with messages of sympathy you can’t handle or the family checking in. They didn’t think you should have come alone – they wanted you close, in hug-reach.

Your finger hovers over the power button, but then you stop. The orange edge of a ticket pokes out of the case. Dad put an alarm on there, to make sure you left on time to get the bus and then the train back. You’ll need the alarm, and if you don’t get back, they’ll send out search parties, never trust you alone again. So you turn it onto airplane mode and stuff it back.

A few old books sit on a shelf, colours bleached from the spines and pages yellow and sagging. Old bird-watching books and a bible. Better than nothing. You drag the old rocking chair out front and a sleeping bag. It’s windy today, and a tree shades your spot. You cocoon yourself in it, books balanced on the arm.

The mountains spread out before you, rolling hills misted in grey haze as far as you can see.  The sun is behind you, sky pale blue. A few birds wheel overhead, but you can’t be bothered to pick up the book. They swoop and dive in pairs. You drift off.

When you wake, the sun is overhead, mist all burnt off and your shade burnt away. You might be too warm, but you can’t tell.

There’s a head bobbing up the slope, greying brown appearing and disappearing behind the bushes. A man, maybe a bit older than dad, without stout boots and thick trousers. You know him – you know everyone in the hamlet and their extended families. That’s the way of small, rural living. But you can’t recall his name.

He smiles when he sees you, that soft, sad smile everyone’s been giving you. “Hello,” he says, like to a frightened dog. “It’s been a long time. How are you?”

Always that question. Can’t they think of something new? How can you be anything when you’re missing half of you? Feels like more – like everything but this little sliver keeping you going whether you want to or not.

“We were so sorry to hear it. So young.”

You can’t muster your own smile. Lips just won’t bend. Can’t find the words – there haven’t been any suitable to respond in the last three weeks. So long already? You just shrug.

He nods awkwardly, then removes a pink cool bag from his backpack. It’s obnoxiously bright. “I’ve brought you food. Marjorie made sure to include potatoes pasty – it was your favourite as a child.”

Your family probably asked them to, to check on you. As there’s no refrigeration, he’ll probably come every day – to check on you more than anything.

When it becomes clear you have nothing to offer, he just sets the pink cool bag down and then goes back down, to the rough stone buildings that cluster out of sight over the next ridge.

A dry throat drags you from the cocoon and your open up the food parcel. The paper-wrapped objects and Tupperware you ignore, but the you down half the glass bottle of apple juice before you realise what you’re doing. You take it inside before you can finish it all, or the food spoils in the sunlight. It’s got too warm, so you chuck the sleeping bags on the grass, hoodie following. Move the chair into the shade and fetch the water container. Once the sun’s lowered a bit, you’ll fetch some water and eat something this evening.

Sit back in the chair and pick the first book, open it randomly. It opens on the psalms, pages wafer thin and slippery under your fingers.

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink into the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.

There’s more below, but you can’t go on. Not right now. Not when it speaks exactly to the tides lapping over your head, the dull weight dragging you under and stealing your air. A splodge of water on the paper, turning it transparent so you can see the words marching on the other side. Another tear follows and suddenly it’s a blur of black and white as you sob. You cried when you first heard, and then at the funeral – more water pushing you under. This time… it just comes. Doesn’t add, doesn’t diminish. Just sits there, expresses something that numbness can’t.

The sun starts to lower and you close the book. There’s more – much more – of the psalm, you know. Something beyond the desperate cry. But you can’t read it now. You get to your feet and pick up the water carrier instead. It’s only the other side of the hill and then you can have some of that pasty.

Maybe tomorrow you’ll be able to read a little further, follow the psalmist’s journey on a little more. Maybe it will take a few days, weeks, until you can reach the next verse. Not today, though. Another, but it will come.

It’s long, and need a third loping off. The start feels too slow, the end too fast. It’s a very experimental style for me – full of sentence fragments and I’m not sure if I like it, if it suits the idea. Also, it’s in second person.

Anyone who is reading this as a follower of my book blog (rather than arriving for Writer In Motion) will be aware that I really don’t like second person. I find it jarring and always throws me from the story. I often DNF books in second, or fight to read every page. However, my attempts to alter it didn’t work. Third was far too distant and first was too close to me, too hard, because this isn’t my exact journey. Second sat in the midway point and I could write it.

Did I imply editing above? Well, kinda. Yes, I know you’re supposed to just post a first draft, but this was not a word vomit first draft. It’s too personal and too far out of my comfort zone for the rapid drafting that I usually have. This was more like my second full rewrite (my process isn’t editing so much as rewriting), the kind of draft where I pick over every word and phrase as I go, edit as I go.

Well, it’s written, and I’m going to send it off to a few CPs and let it rest while they have it. In the mean time, I’m going to get back to editing my political fantasy, GRIFFINS. The end is in sight!

Read the rest of this series:

So, apparently, using Bible verses requires a copyright notice, but I fall into the “free licence” category. Thus, for the verses in italics above:

Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s