‘Any teas, coffees, panini, snacks?’ asked one of the flight attendants, smiling wide, holding onto a trolley filled with plastic bags and paper cups. She wore her chestnut-brown hair tied in bun at the back of her head. Her skin was tanned and flawless, her English sprinkled with a mild Spanish accent. A long apron covered her pale yellow shirt and ocean blue skirt.
I shook my head and she moved the mini-bar one row past me. It would be at least an hour before they come back with perfumes and those damn lottery tickets.
Blessed with a window seat, I stared at the vivid azure of the sky above the clouds for a minute before getting back to tapping on my phone. With my wife’s head rested on my shoulder, I was trying not to move too much. She’s fast asleep and I didn’t want to wake her up. The crammed seats sure didn’t make that any easier.
Our plane would be landing at Mallorca in an hour and 40 minutes and that made me nervous. I was meant to be done by now so why the hell was I still working? For the third time I selected the whole last paragraph and deleted it without any idea what to write instead. I was stuck.
This is the story of the first draft of my first novel.
It all started back in December 2015. I’m one of those people who like to take at least a week off around Christmas. But besides celebrating the holidays, I don’t usually do much. As the year comes to an end, I sit back and reflect. I want to see what I’ve missed before it all gets flushed down the drain of history.
I did a lot of disorganised writing in 2015. This year, I wanted to start something new; something with a purpose. I had a hazy story idea in my mind, way too complex for a short story but not developed enough to become a novel. So I though I’d do an online serial: 26 chapters published bi-weekly over the whole year, 3000 words per chapter. If people liked it — great, no big deal if they didn’t. It’d be free on the internet.
When the fireworks launched on New Year’s Eve, I had a basic outline. Many questions and not enough answers. It took one more week of agonising and a number of revisions before I started writing. The story arc was nowhere near ready, but if I were to hit the deadline for the first instalment, I had to dive in.
I wrote the first 500 words on 10 January, another 500 on the 11th and 500 more on the 12th. The words added up and when the deadline was due, I had enough for not one but two instalments. I stayed up late, scrolling through the draft, cup of coffee in hand, struggling to keep my eyes open. The copy was raw and the story too.
How can I do this without knowing exactly what happens next? I thought.
The more I wrote, the more precious the story became to me. The fear of putting something out there that I couldn’t fix later became real. I went to bed without publishing either of the chapters that night.
The next morning, I filed everything I wrote so far in a folder called CHAPTER 1. I set my goal to 80,000 and suddenly, I was writing a novel. The math was pretty simple. Inspired by my previous daily successes — if I wrote 500 words a day, I’d be done by 18 June. That sounded like a plan.
The transition from a pastime activity into a major project put an abrupt end to my epic writing streak. I produced no words on that day or the one after. The resistance had crept on me from behind, unwelcome and unexpected. When I started caring whether it was shit, everything got a lot more difficult.
With mixed success over the following month, I stopped to re-work the outline. Two weeks later I scrapped four of the seven chapters I had written so far and started over, making a promise to myself that this time I’d stick with it till the end. Oh, well.
Wake up, try to write, go to work, try to write, go to bed — my next few months in a nutshell. I moved the novel forward as a snail moves its house; it was slow and frustrating. The thing got heavier and heavier as I filled the manuscript with imperfection.
June arrived earlier than expected. I had just finished chapter 12 and the manuscript sat at around 55,000 words, whooping 25k short of the target. That sucked and I didn’t want to write another word ever again. My writing sessions went on an on, if I wrote anything at all. Four hours in, 117 words done — less than a half a word per minute. I quite literally dragged myself through chapters 13 and 14 until I couldn’t possibly carry on with this excruciating endeavour any longer.
I stopped writing completely in July, 14 chapters and 62,000 words into the manuscript. I barely passed the midpoint and keeping up the same pace, I’d be stuck with this project till Christmas at least.
The problem with first drafts is that they give you the benefit of the doubt. When you quit mid-draft, you’ll never get to see how bad your story really is. Your work goes into a folder of wishful thinking. You could make it awesome if you wanted to, but not now. Failing to finish is very different from finishing and failing. You don’t get to face the reality and never learn from your mistakes.
I had failed to finish too many times before. This time, I wouldn’t have it.
Even in January, I wasn’t naive enough to think that I’d finish by June. But I wanted to get the book done before the beginning of September when I booked my holidays — in exactly 39 days. Out of curiosity, I worked out what would it take to finish the book by then. The calculator showed me a number I didn’t like one bit: just over 1,000 words every day for the entire month.
My daily output at the time averaged at 150 painful words. Doing this for a couple of days? Maybe. But thinking that I could keep writing over seven times that for 40 days straight was an absolutely ludicrous idea.
Luckily, a part of me that I still don’t quite understand said, 'Fuck it. Let’s do this.’
I was in for some serious hustle, every single day, no exceptions. Slip one and miss it. I woke up early and stayed up late, drunk coffee by the litre, adding cans of Red Bull when that would no longer do.
And 39 days later, I found myself three quarters into a flight from London to Palma de Mallorca, still working. The words were stubbornly refusing to leave my head. I saw sea already beneath us. It was exactly the same colour as the flight attendant’s apron. There were three ships floating at the surface, each the size of a grain of sand. The rocky north coast of the island emerged out of the blue shortly after. I forced my eyes away from the beauty, took a deep breath and woke my phone up again.
Bullshit, I’m not stuck. I know how to do this, I thought. I hammered out the last two paragraphs of chapter 26 as the crew wrapped up the perfume trolley and got the cabin ready for landing.
The Boeing 737-800 touched down and my novel was done. 39 days, 44,000 words. The most productive writing streak of my entire life. Commitment and hard work made all the difference.
The whole manuscript is 26 chapters and 109,475 words long. I overshoot the target quite a bit. I can always delete some stuff.
When we disembarked into the heat of late afternoon, I felt calm and relieved. Eight long months of grappling against the resistance came to an end. I was happy; really happy. But it was an entirely different kind of happiness than I had imagined I’d feel when I wrote the first page in January.
Writing the first draft is only one step on the journey from an idea to a finished book. Now that I’ve got all the ingredients in a pot, it’s time to step away and let it brew.
And when the time comes, I can’t wait to start editing.
Thanks for your support; I’ll keep you guys posted.
(Author’s Note: Would you want me to continue doing Song-Themed One Shots? I had a bit of fun writing this one… It was a different style to what I usually do. I’d love to know what you though.) xx
- - - -
an endless avenue
There’s sunlight sending out the end of June
Harry sat on the
bench inside the field, with the park behind him full of young families who had
taken their children out. The sun was beaming down in all its glory, with no
clouds in sight to stop the heat from reaching him. His legs were stretched out
on front of him, his ankles crossing as the heels of his boots dug into the
grass beneath him. His eyes were looking straight ahead of him, down the avenue
directly opposite him. It was empty, and seemed to go on forever. He knew the
road off by heart; he spent the majority of his elder life walking up and down
the paths leading the house located as the second house up on the right hand
You lived there. He
spent the most of his elder teenage life in that home, with you. He’d helped
you move in, and he’d even helped in paying for the rent. It was like he lived
there, with you. He’s was everything you could ever imagine as a housemate, a
best friend, and a boyfriend. Ever since he’d grown famous, he always made sure
to stay there when he had time off. It just meant that he got to spend time
with you, without having to go home to his small flat in the centre of London.
He could spend the nights cuddled up with you, his arms wrapping tightly round
you. His nose would be buried deep into your hair, his lips pressed to the skin
behind your ear.
whispered sweet nothings into your ear, his breath warm on your cheek as the
dull and dreary morning filled the room with a cold atmosphere. His legs would
be entwined with yours, and his bare chest was like a heater to your back. You
could feel him breathing, his chest rising and falling as he breathed heavily
through his lips. Your bedroom was cold, but he always made sure to keep you
warm. Whether it be cuddling close to you, or handing you the jumper he’d worn
the night before. He’d always make sure he’d pull the hood over your head, and
pull at the drawstrings, making it close up around your face.
It always made you
giggle. And a giggle like yours always put a big smile on his lips.
around something just don’t feel right
shaped bubble above my head
things I should’ve said, you never knew
As he continued to
stare down the road, watching as the cars backed out of driveways and various
footballs being kicked into the air, all he could think of was the times you’d
spent together. He hated how the distance has torn the two of you apart, and he
hated how it ended how it did. You got upset, and cried to him, and it broke
his heart. He wanted it to be mutual. He didn’t want it. Of course he didn’t
want it; you meant the whole world to him. He loved you, and he tried so hard
to keep the relationship alight.
He listened as you cried and vented out to him,
his arms holding you tightly as you cried into his chest. Your hands were
fisting at the shirt covering his torso, your mascara running down your cheeks
and staining the white material. His heart was aching. His chest was tightening
and he felt the world was crumbling at his feet.
“You understand me, don’t you Harry? We can’t
keep doing this if we’re constantly away from one another. I feel I never see
you anymore, and it’s not fair to either of us” You whispered, as he squeezed
you to his chest. Your body was sat on his lap, sideways to your side was
braced against his belly and chest. “It’s unfair to you, because you have a
girlfriend here who can’t make time to come and see you. You only see me for a
few weeks a year, and it’s not fair to you. You need a girlfriend who can
travel with you” You added, as he felt his bottom lip tremble.
“I wish we didn’t get torn apart from the
distance. This is killing me. I hate leaving you behind” He sighed, his breath
wavering and his chest tightening even more. “I love you, you know that? And
there is a saying that if you love someone, you got to let them go. This isn’t
fair to you, either. I know” He stated, as he pressed a kiss to your
salty-tear-stained cheek. “I love you so much, (Y/N). But, I can’t keep doing
this to you either. I’m always away, and you never see me. If we stop a relationship,
and go back to friends, then it won’t be so difficult to leave one another” He
suggested, as you looked to him. His eyes were dewy and red rimmed; it was
breaking him, and you had no idea.
“Is this it then?” You wondered, as he ran his
thumbs under your eyes to wipe the tears building up and dripping down your
cheeks. “Are we no longer boyfriend and girlfriend?” You whisper, your voice
catching. He shook his head, but he wished he didn’t. He wished he fought for
you. He wished he told you he wanted to keep you. He wanted to tell you that
you meant the whole world to him, and that he would do anything it took to keep
you as his one and only.
But he couldn’t take you through the pain.
He didn’t want you to feel so heartbroken
because of him. It hurt him to know that he was the cause of some heartache in
the relationship, and he couldn’t give you more.
That was 3 months
back, before he left for the newest leg of the tour. He wondered if you were
home. He wondered if he should follow what his legs wanted and walk to your
home, and pull you into his arms and kiss you so hard to remind you he hadn’t
stopped loving you. He wanted to hug you so tightly and never let you go, in
fear of losing you again. He couldn’t help the common thought of another man
blessing your life. Were you with someone else? A guy who could give you
everything? One you would see every day? Hug every day? Kiss every day? It
He wanted to be the
one to see you every day. He wanted to be the one to give you everything. He
wanted to be the one to kiss you every day. He wanted to marry you. He didn’t care
about the lead up. He wanted you to be his. He wanted you to be Mrs Styles.
Mrs H. Styles.
That’s all he
wanted in life.
I’ll make my way back to Central Park
pieces of my broken heart
chasing down a fallen star to where you are
together by your memory
won’t you just come back to me?
trace the pieces of my broken heart
His gloved hand was holding onto yours tightly;
your fingers cold and no doubtedly numb. The snow was falling around you, the
flakes large yet soft as you made your way around Times Square in Manhattan. His
hair was collecting snowflakes on the tips showing from under the beanie on his
head. It was 2012, New Year’s Eve. He made a pact at the beginning of the year,
to take you to New York for the big firework display in Central Park. He’d
brought his family along, as well as you and your family, so you could bring in
the New Year together. His mum, Gemma and your mum had already made their way
to Central Park, in order to get a good spot. Robin and your father had stayed
at the hotel to watch the ball drop from the hotel room. You and Harry were
taking a trek around Times Square, taking in the incredible atmosphere before
you made your way to the Subway station for get to Central Park.
“I think this should be a tradition. We could
bring our kids out here when we get married and have a family. We could see the
ball drop and then have hot dogs and cuddle in the hotel room” Harry grinned,
as he squeezed your hand tightly. You’d never seen the cuter side to the 18
year old, and it made you feel all fuzzy when he spoke about the future.
Especially since you were situated somewhere in his future dreams. “How great
would that be? They could take that tradition onto their families, and then
they would pass it on, and it could keep going as the traditional Styles
tradition” He grinned, his teeth shining under the lights of the huge screens
lighting up Times Square.
“You want to marry me then, hmm? And have
babies?” You grinned, nudging him lightly as you made your way to the small
coffee shop that was near abandoned at the back of the whole fiasco of the
street. He nodded shyly as he pushed the
door open to the shop, the bell ringing above you as he held the door for you
to walk in. “You’re so adorable, H. God, this is why I love you” You giggled,
as he stepped into the warmth of the aroma filled shop.
“We’ve been together for a year now. More than a
year. Nearing two years, you know?” He grinned, as he pulled a chair from the
small table beside the window. “The thought has come across my mind every once
in a while. It makes me want it more than anything” He smiled, as he shrugged
his black coat off, the snowflakes melting under the heat of the lights above
you. “Obviously not yet, babe, as we’re only 18. But, I’m going to marry you,
and we’re going to have babies that are just the cutest little babies ever” He
grinned, as he placed the coat over the back of the chair. “What would you
like, my love? Cake? Panini? Shortcake?” He wondered, as he leant over and
kissed your forehead.
“I’ll just have half of the panini you get and a
hot chocolate” You grinned, as he nodded. “I’m not that hungry at the moment. I’ll
probably eat when we get back to the hotel room. If you don’t mind me ordering
room service” You grinned, as he chuckled softly.
“Of course not, my love.”
You burn onto my mind like a
Just the memory
alone was imprinted on his brain. It was his favourite memory; sitting in the
coffee shop, sharing his panini and gossiping away about nothing at all
interesting. You took photos, selfies and cuddled tightly together. The shop
was warm, and he could still imagine the smell of the shop when he thought back
to it. It was permanently imprinted, and even if he tried to forget, he couldn’t.
It was just there, whenever his mind was empty of nothing to think about.
Louis, Liam and
Niall had always tried to help him forget the image of you. It was bringing him
down, and they hated it. He wasn’t himself. He’d stay in the hotel room on
their days off on tour, and he’d always be silent during song writing. You were
there, on his mind, every day. And no matter what the boys tried to do, nothing
worked in erasing the memories he’d had when the two of you were together.
The break-up left
him lifeless. He looked dead, and his face was turning colourless. He was
dressed in the same clothes, and the boys were getting worried. When he had
break-ups like this under the public eye, he was completely different. He
seemed so in love with them, and yet the break ups never affected him. When he
broke up with you, it killed him. He felt something different with you;
something no one else would feel.
Something he didn’t feel for anyone else.
He just wished the
tattoo on his mind was a positive tattoo imprinted on his mind. But it brought
negative feelings, rather than positive, and he wished it got easier.
I got half that photograph
Empire State above the stars
got yours, let’s glue them back together
stay here forever
When he arrived back to his flat, the
image of the two of you was still hanging beside the mirror. You were in Central
Park at the 2014 New Year in New York, when everything was happy and you felt
that you were on top of the world. Gemma
had taken it, when you were sitting in the snow falling to the ground. The
light snowfall making everything feel romantic and made everything look
beautiful. His legs were stretched out in front of him, separated so you could
settle between them. The fireworks were bright, and it made you look like you
were silhouettes. Gemma made sure to have them developed so you could have one,
and Harry could have one. One for your home and one for his flat.
He wondered if you still had it. Did
you look at it every time you walked past it? Did your mind lapse back to that
day, when everything was perfect and happy and nothing could ruin anything? He
reached for the framed photo with one hand, whilst his other hand reached for
the car keys in the wooden bowl.
He needed to see you. He needed to
tell you he missed you. That the break up was a huge mistake. Even if he wasn’t
the one who suggested it, he needed to know if you felt the same way. His
knuckles were turning white from the grip he had on the frame, his thumb
tensing around the wood.
I’ll trace the pieces of my broken heart
He followed the
trail of hypothetical fragments; fragments belonging to his shattered and
broken heart. His knuckles knocked against the door, the dusk setting behind
him as he waited patiently on the front door step. There were hanging baskets
hanging from either side, and he recognised them as the ones his mother had
given you both for Christmas. He remembered her bringing them round during the
morning, with wrapping paper wrapped around the basket itself with the flowers
blooming bright and bold. His ears perked up when he heard shuffling from the
other side of the door, and he could see your figure through the small window
to the side of the door.
The door creaked
open, and you came into view. A gasp leaving your lips as you took him in. It’d
been 3 months since you’d seen him. And he hadn’t changed a bit. He was still
dressing in the whacky and unfashionable t-shirts which always made you weak at
the knees when he wore them. He was standing in his jeans, with a black
see-through shirt on, his tattoos showing prominently behind the material.
Harry bit his
lip softly, and looked to you. His eyes looking deeply into yours as he watched
your cheeks tinging pink. “(Y/N)… Hey” He whispered, as he gripped the photo in
his hand. “I need answers. Do you still love me?” He whispered, with a hint of
begging in his tone. “I need you to love me, (Y/N)! I miss you so much. 3
months have gone by, and you’ve been imprinted on my mind the whole time. I’ve
persuaded myself to follow the trail of my broken heart, and I need you to tell
me you love me. Fix my heart. Fix me. I need help” He begged, as he held the
photo out in front of him. His hands shaking as you took in the image.
Of course you
recognised it. It hung above the headboard in your bedroom, so you could see it
before you went to bed. It was the last photo you looked at for the day, and
the first photo you saw on a newly blessed day. His lips were trembling and his
eyes were begging you. A plead hidden behind his green orbs.
“Harry… Why? Why
now? Why do you have the need in you to keep breaking our hearts? It’s not
fair. You’re always away” You whispered, as you folded your arms across your
chest. The cool air hitting at your bare skin, and sending a shiver down your
spine. He shrugged, and blinked quickly. Like he was trying to remove the tears
that were building. “Come in…” You whispered, as he took the opportunity to
step back into the place he called home.
“I just want to
be with you. I’ve been sat at the park down the end of the road, looking down
the road, debating whether to come over and see you. To win you back. I’ve been
thinking so much, and it’s been a crazy ride of emotion. Please, tell me you
miss me?” He begged, as he placed the photo on the side table, and gripped at
your hands. His hands were shaking, and he gripped hold of them tightly. “I
need you back, (Y/N). Baby, I love you. I should have fought for your love when
you wanted to break up. We’ve be together still if I wasn’t stupid and let you
go. You are my world and I can’t have a great life without you” He whispered, his
voice cracking as he looked at you. Your eyes were reddening and tearing up. “I
meant what I said back in 2012. I want to have a wedding with you. A big white
wedding. You become Mrs Harry Styles, and we do everything together. You can
come anywhere with me, and we can have babies and they’ll be adorable and look
like you, and I want you in my future. I need you in my future” He cried, as
his tears dribbled down his cheeks.
You listened as
a heart-clenching sob left his lips. “Harry… Oh, baby” You whispered, as you
hooked your arms around his neck. Your fingers dragging through the hairs at
the nape of his neck. “I’m not going anywhere if you don’t want me too. I’m
here for as long as possible. I love you too, Harry. I love you so much” You
whispered, as kissed along his jaw. “I’m an idiot for letting you go, and I
regret it so much. I’ve not stopped loving you, Harry Styles. You’re my best
friend, and my one and only and love. You’re lovely and beautiful, and I love
you so much” You whispered, as he buried his face into your neck.
And at that
moment, Harry knew everything was going to be okay.
“We canalways do it another day,” you offered while balancing the phone between your
shoulder and ear.
can’t, love. I only turn 21 once,” his slow drawl putting a smile on your face.
had an amazing star studded event to celebrate it, Haz. I know you’re probably
running on about 4 hours of sleep so-”
may I remind you, that you were not at. I’ll sleep tomorrow Y/N. Stop making
excuses, you promised you’d spend my birthday with me and I’m going to cash in
on that promise.”
at his stubborn nature and nodded, forgetting that he couldn’t see you.
I’ll pick you up in an hour,” you checked your watch as you crawled under the
bed to retrieve the present you’d manage to keep hidden from him for the past
“What do I
wear?” he questioned still having no idea what you had planned.
comfortable. It’s nothing extravagant,” you truthfully told him.
you just tell me where you’re taking me, woman?” he grumbled as you heard water
running in the background.
the fun in that? Just take a shower and throw something on. I’ll be over in a
bit,” you disconnected the call and tossed your phone on the bed as you pulled
the neatly wrapped box from the shadows of under your bed.
surprised that he hadn’t found it. Every time he came to your place he would
spend a lot of the time looking for his gift. He claimed the suspense from
surprises gave him indigestion. You knew he was simply impatient.
collected his present, your handbag and your keys before exiting your apartment
and walking to your car.
It was a ten
minutes drive to where Harry was staying, but you figured you’d swing by a
coffee shop and get him some breakfast first. You could only imagine how tired
and hung over he’d been from his birthday bash. If the pictures you’d seen
online this morning were any indication then you knew he’d had a grand time.
You wanted to be there, but you had been working on an essay that you had to
submit at midnight and knew you wouldn’t be attending.
later and you tried to hold back a laugh as Harry entered your car. For one,
his t shirt was inside out and you were positive he hadn’t noticed.
birthday boy, I brought you breakfast,” you presented him with his favourite
coffee and panini combo from the bistro you two frequented.
angel,” he graciously accepted as you pulled from the curb and continued
“By the way,
you put your shirt on wrong.”
he said around a mouthful of food.
yourself to keep your eyes on the road as he proceeded to pull the shirt over
his head. Being his friend for the past three years didn’t mean you were immune
to the charm and splendour that was Harry Styles. You had eyes. Eyes that were
fighting to keep from roaming over his chiselled torso.
Paps would have had a field day with that,” he grinned as he righted the
garment and slipped it back on.
didn’t trust yourself to speak.
you had arrived. The car park was completely empty like you’d expected. Your
cousin happened to be a manager at the aquarium and had pulled some strings to
get you the entire place to yourself for a couple hours.
we?” he looked around when he noticed the car had stilled.
see. C’mon, you can bring your breakfast,” you gestured to the half eaten sandwich
in his hand as you exited the car.
up to the entrance and watched his expression go from one of curiosity to
elation as he caught sight of the sign.
have otters?” his excitement was tangible.
Early on in
your friendship he’d voiced an interest in spending the day at an aquarium
which he had never done before.
out,” you linked your arm with his as you entered.
where is everyone? Maybe it’s closed?”
he looked around, noticing the quiet.
open just for us for the next two hours.”
way!” his eyes sparkled as he realized there wasn’t a soul in sight.
At the end
of the two hours you’d taken pictures, ooh’d
and awe’d and renamed two of the
otters you’d seen. According to Harry, Max and Jane weren’t fitting for his new
friends and insisted that Oscar and Annabelle were much better.
taking him to a restaurant for lunch like you’d planned he requested that you
go back to your place and order pizza which you were all too happy to oblige.
given him his present which he laughed at for five minutes straight. It was a
big stuffed banana with his last name stitched along the length of it. You knew
he’d love it.
“This is by
far the best birthday ever,” he said while the both of you were curled up on
the couch watching tv.
could be a part of it,” you grinned proudly.
whole reason, actually.”
over to see him already staring intently at you. You felt your face heat up at
his words and blatant staring.
giggled and leaned over to kiss his cheek for his sweet words.
lips never met their target. Harry turned his head at the last minute and
connected his lips with yours, quickly bringing his hands up to frame your
believe it, but his soft lips were firmly pressed against yours, there was no doubt
this was happening. He playfully nibbled
your bottom lip before releasing you. You looked up at him with hooded eyes to
see him returning your gaze imploringly.
back into him, assuring him that this was more than okay with a kiss of your
the best birthday ever,” he mumbled against your lips.