I’ve been very quiet about the editing of my novel lately, and if you were following my twitter and Facebook streams you might be forgiven for thinking it’s taken a bit of a back seat.
In reality, it hasn’t, and I’m still putting twenty plus hours a week into it. I’m just balls-deep in rewrites.
I’m now onto the last few chapters, and in this draft they are amongst the oldest writings. Throughout the editing process I’ve been fine tuning the direction of the book and it’s here that all the threads get pulled together. So it’s natural that they would need the most amount of work.
My friends often bemoan my rewriting. I think they see it as some procrastination activity to stop me ever having to say that the book ready. But in truth, if one thing has stayed constant, throughout the years I’ve worked on this book, it’s the vision of what I wanted it to be.
I happened to comment on a tweet on Peter V Brett’s that said he’d rewritten one scene 43 times. He replied with reassurance that if you’re not happy, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
And that’s what I’ve been doing these last few chapters. Bring the plots to a climax and satisfactory end.
Still there is something quite magical when characters who’ve had separate threads for a hundred thousand words finally meet. You just can’t help getting goosebumps.
The rewrites won’t change anything plot-wise, just ramp up the tension. It’s fine tuning , turning the awesome dial to 11.
What this has made me realise is that the actual story arc is pretty strong. I read a review over at Amanda’s blog of The Blade Itself and was reminded how that novel doesn’t really have a strong story arc. The Name of the Wind was like this also. I think you’ll come to the end of this book and feel you’ve been on a journey. The end has always bothered me as being a little open ended but I think that worry was unfounded. Besides, this edit really is going some way to strengthen it even more.
Just as good music has melody, so I think this novel has a rhythm to it. It’s taken a lot to appease my inner critic but there have been numerous times whilst editing this book, little things I’d forgotten crop up which have made me think, “if this had been a book I was reading, I really would be enjoying it right now”.
That’s good. I can’t guarantee anyone else is going to love (or even like) this book, but I actually think it’s really, really good (and as someone ultra critical of their own work, that takes some saying).
I just need to guide these final two and a half chapters home.
I’ve been busy these last few days trying to write a blog post about destiny. There’s been quite a bit of really good discussion about it on Twitter this past week, but trying to collect and collate all my thoughts has proved to be a bigger job than I thought.
So I’m aware I need to make another blog post, to ensure the forward momentum of the site, but have nothing ready to post.
And then I see that someone has reviewed Jetsam, my story in the new BFS Journal.
Here’s what Weirdmonger had to say:
Jetsam by Adrian Faulkner
“There was no time for any final words.”
An effectively written and poignant variation on the theme of dying as paralleled by a visit of a family to the seaside. Its skill is such that it positively affected me today as my wife and I are currently involved with periodically visiting an elderly relative in her last days or weeks…. Thanks. (21 Jan 11)
My excitement is because this is my first fiction review, and the fact that it’s positive has made me beam all day.
I’m determined to enjoy it as I have visions of me in several years time with a few bad reviews under my belt, saying “things were so much easier back then.”
If anyone sees any other reviews, please let me know!
I used to love ebooks. When I got my first ebook reader, a Bookeen cybook, I used it all the time and swore it was the future. I used to buy all my books from a place called Fictionwise that used bizarre economics whereby I always got more back in credit than I spent (to date I still have $100 in credit). And those I did buy cost me just a couple of dollars. I loved that place.
But then their stuff started getting region-locked which meant that I couldn’t get 99% of the books I wanted. Also publishers seemed to drop support for the mobipocket format in favour of epub. This was to be expected. It was like the early days of MP3 vs AAC vs WMV.
So I went back to books. Good reliable bulky books. I missed ebooks but Fictionwise burned me badly
The iPad and iBooks seemed to suggest that epub would become the dominant format. Whilst I never planned to use the iPad as a reading device (I don’t like backlit screens over e-ink), I did think it would give epub enough of a dominance to overtake Kindle.
But it never happened, Apple never pushed iBooks enough, never really took the fight to Amazon. Instead they were content just for it to be another bulletpoint on what the iPad could do. Amazon fought. Amazon put the Kindle reading device to my phone, my iPad, and my computer. They did clever things like syncing and I watched as my friends have almost all gone over to Kindle.
I worry about format lock-in, but whilst it was a pain, I managed to take all my legally bought Mobipocket books, de-DRM them and convert to epub. I suspect if enough people use format there will always be tools to crack and convert.
So I’ve been looking at the Kindle since before Xmas, would have asked for one from my parents if the snow hadn’t come and deliveries gone up the chute. I even went looking for them in John lewis after Xmas (the only place to sell them other than Amazon) only to find them sold out. But PC World and Currys now do them, and so the other night I used my Xmas money to go and get one.
On the surface it’s just an ebook reader like any other but I think the clever stuff is behind the scenes, like how I can buy from Amazon and it’ll push the novel to whatever device I want without me having to hook things up or download. It’s a iPod for books. I know some will resist it because of its market dominance but I gave iBooks 9 months to get their act together.
I do find that I’m already reading more, as evidenced by a couple of late nights and exhausted mornings. I got a light for it, so I can read in bed without having to get up and turn the lights out when I’m finished. I love it, like being ten again and reading by torchlight.
I’m trying to resist the urge to go out and buy a lot of books for it. Instead, I’ll buy them as they’re needed. I have started an Amazon wishlist though and have been trawling the site adding books to it.
With space a consideration, it feels good to be back in the digital era. I just wish it was easier to transfer books between devices without feeling like a criminal.
The Name of the Wind tells the life story of Kvothe, a legendary hero, and goes about showing the more realistic story behind the legend. It’s a book about deconstructing legends and in that sense, it’s a book about story.
The problem for me is that a novel must have plot. It must have a beginning, a middle and an end. It must have that arc of story that weaves and pulls threads together. The Name of The Wind doesn’t have a plot. Oh yes, there’s certainly a progression of story as we follow Kvothe growing up and the story at the Whetstone gives scaffolding to the novel, becoming a pseudo front and end.
The trouble is that in order to deconstruct legends, the book has to sacrifice plot. If it didn’t Kvothe’s life would be a little too neat and the book just wouldn’t work. However, for me at least, instead of just taking a little blood, it kills it on the altar. And that ruins the book for me.
There’s some great and very clever metafiction out there. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is probably my favourite. And part of me just thinks that Rothfuss could have been smarter and delivered a ‘proper’ novel that deconstructs myth.
When I was 8 I wrote my first fantasy story. Whereas most stories pupils wrote in school were two or three pages long, mine was 18. It must have been pretty good for an 8 year old as they typed it up for the school library and encouraged me to write more. What I did was extend the story with extra adventures to create a story over 100 pages in length. This was little more than a series of unconnected stories featuring the same characters. Then they did this and then they did that.
And The Name of The Wind reminds me of this, because it feels like that story. Then I lost a talent then I gained a talent. A series of almost independent adventures, sometimes almost repetitious in nature as Kvothe makes his way through university. If there is no plot to advance per say, then surely the function of these episodes is to highlight character. But we’ve seen Kvothe in these circumstances before, they don’t seem to advance character.
If this was a genuine memoir, they’d be forgiven, lives don’t fit nicely into novels. But this is fiction pretending to be a memoir, and I find myself thinking “surely, they could be condensed and streamlined a bit without losing that sense off the randomness of life, that illusion of memoir”.
Now I do think that it’s clever that as a reader we overlook this because we subconsciously accept this as a memoir. Despite all my problems with it, I don’t think this is a bad book. In fact I did enjoy it.
Most of the book is told in the first person and ordinarily that would start to tire very quickly, but there’s a real sense of the storyteller to Kvothe, that makes the chapters slip by. Now maybe because I’m editing right now and developing a critical eye but the amount of adjectives in dialogue attribution gave me the feeling that the voice was covering up a multitude of sins. It stops me saying I think this book was well written, yet doesn’t stop me saying that the book was an easy read. Perhaps this is part of Kvothe’s voice and another ‘meta’ thing. I hate saying it bothered me, but it really brought me out of the story at times as much as I wish it didn’t.
Rothfuss’ world is very rich and the ambling nature of the story means the reader can really wallow in the worldbuilding. Kvothe is also a wonderful character. We see the world through his eyes, yet never once did I tire of the voice. I also really liked Denna. I’ve had some real problems with female characters in fantasy of late and I loved how Denna was a well-rounded, individual, interesting character who was always Kvothe’s equal (sometimes even more) rather than just a damsel in distress. I love the wind motif that seems to be attached to her but was slightly disappointed when this hadn’t amounted to anything by the end of the novel.
Indeed I think the characterisation (and the rich worldbuilding) in this novel is what saved it for me. I was prepared to read through more financial transactions than the US stock market as Kvothe lost and gained talents, because I loved the characters so and wanted to find out what happened next.
I’m not a critical reader. I like what I like even if it is stupid and dumb. The Name of The Wind isn’t stupid or dumb by any means, and I can see why this is seen by many people as one of their favourite all-time fantasy novels. I can also see why some people hate this book. For me, looking critically at it, I do think it’s an ambitious yet deeply-flawed novel.
The sequel, due this year, will be interesting and a book I’ll probably read eventually. I think for me, it’ll either validate or totally destroy my views on this book. If I’m honest, I’m fine with either way.
At the end of all this, after all this criticism, I can still say that I enjoyed the novel. I doubt it’ll be in my list of books I recommend to new fantasy readers as must-read classics but neither am I going to tell them to avoid it either. Instead I imagine many a long discussion about this novel for years to come.
Part of the fun of being a writer is that as you grow you begin to learn your own process. This is both like and unlike any other writer’s process. When they relay their experiences there are those moments when you’ll find yourself nodding, but then there are those which seem so alien, so counter to everything you read.
I’m old friends with that stage half-way through drafting when you feel “everything is crap” but in the last couple of days I’ve discovered a new stage to my writing. I call it “The Fear”.
To understand it, you have to realise that I’ve carried this novel around in my head for years, a lot of years, maybe as much as twenty. Sure it’s evolved over time but those first few chapters have been written and rewritten and rewritten.
Friends thought that I was just going to be one of those people who never completed things, just eternally revised. Heck, I thought I might as well; some form of writing OCD. But deep down I knew the chapters weren’t right, that they didn’t match what I had in my head. And so years and revisions have passed like water turning rock into a smooth pebble.
Hardly a year has gone by without me announcing to the world that this would be the year “I complete my novel” and to be fair it’s never been without effort. In recent years since I’ve really focused on my writing, the effort has been a lot more, but still the revisions piled up.
Then last year, things felt right. Either my internal critic had softened up a bit or I was starting to deliver the type of prose I’ve always wanted. But in June I realised what I was trying to write as one book (in a series) was actually two. That split meant massive amounts of extra work, but it was the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle. The book felt right and the first draft got completed at the end of September.
I felt good about the novel, I really did. There was every chance that everyone else would hate it but I’d delivered what I’d set out to do. The thing was though. People who’d read parts of it liked it as well but I didn’t want to acknowledge that for fear of jinxing it.
Editing began in October, and the plan was for it to take a month. I totally underestimated the time. I reckon I’ve put three to four times the amount of effort into editing the novel as I have writing that last draft.
One of the things that has surprised me during the editing is how much I enjoy the book. I know this sounds crazy, but I’d forgotten a lot of the detail. Had this been someone else’s novel (corrections and edits aside), I would have raved about it. That, for someone who has spent so long being critical of their own work, has genuinely surprised me.
To ensure it’s understandable and hangs together as a novel, I’ve had a couple of alpha readers who I’ve passed chapters to as and when I finish editing them. These are old friends, and more particularly old friends who’ve never been shy about telling me exactly what they’ve thought of my work. Family might be your biggest fans (although not in my case) but friends can be your biggest critics.
Now I’m not going to lie and say they think it’s perfect. They’ve raised issues but nothing novel-crushing. Pretty much all their issues (whether I agree with them or not) are easily fixable. The things I worried they might hate, haven’t been mentioned.
They actually like it.
Then today one of them told me they had some “extreme criticism”. My first reaction is “Oh good” because logically I want people to be hard and honest on a novel I want to survive in a hard and honest world. Of course, the emotional response is the opposite; I’d be upset if someone said they didn’t like it.
Success and / or praise does not sit easy with me, so I felt quite relieved that they had a major issue. But I was almost disappointed when the issue was a duff chapter. It’s not even a major one, just one needed to move the plot on. It’s a fair point and one that’s pretty easy to fix.
And it’s not that the alpha readers aren’t being honest or lax, it’s just starting to seem that maybe, just maybe I’ve written a potentially enjoyable novel. It could still be poorly written, but people do seem to enjoy it.
And therein comes The Fear.
Keep in mind that Jetsam has just been released and despite all my fears that it would never get published, I now have it in my hands, beautifully laid out with an illustration. It’s a real tangible thing that says I can do fiction. A product of hard work and dedication.
More surprising has been the reactions of family members. My mother has said in the past that she would read my novel “but she wouldn’t enjoy it”. Yet she recently read Jetsam, and her attitude towards my writing has changed.
“That story really has… something,” she told me. You know when you’re a writer? When your own mother gives you that look.
After years of hard work, things seem to be coming together for me, and it’s frightening.
As a writer, I daydream a lot. It goes with the territory. Now I don’t believe getting a novel deal any more than I believe in elves and goblins (well maybe a little more), but I still dream about it. Not, you may be surprised to hear, of fame and riches, but of feeling my name on the cover, of having people say they like the story.
And it all feels dangerously in reach. After years of dreaming I can almost touch it.
But The Fear is that it’ll get snatched away from me. The logical response is that it’s unlikely your first submission will make it but everything is a learning experience. The emotional response (maybe only for a day or so) is that you’ve wasted years of your life on a folly of a story.
The book is 7 chapters and change from being complete. Then with any amendments that have arisen from the alpha readers, the book goes to beta readers.
Again, I don’t expect it to be perfect. But I have this fear that the beta readers will read it and be disappointed by it. I can imagine the private tweets:
Person A: So, how is Adrian’s novel?
Beta Reader: Not very good I’m afraid.
It’s an irrational fear but one generated by my inability to cope with success. This only seems to affect my writing, but I think because I want this so much and I’ve worked so hard, I fear I’ll be lulled into a false sense of security only to have my hopes dashed. Better to believe it’s all lies than have my heart broken.
…which is stupid because I think I am quite rational about these things and have a good understanding of publishing.
I’ve come to accept that this is part of my process that the closer a novel comes to realising my hopes and dreams, the more I’m going to fear that it won’t. I suppose that will dissipate over time. It’s just a confidence thing.
But at the moment, with it being this close to completion, I have nothing but The Fear.
I woke this morning to something large coming through the letter box. I’ll admit that my first thought was a DVD, but since I now buy blu-ray and haven’t got any order outstanding, I’ll put it down to the fog of sleep.
What it turned out to be was something much more exciting: The first volume of the British Fantasy Society Journal. Gone are the single paperback publications of Dark Horizons, New Horizons and Prism, replaced with one hardback volume that collects them together.
Now I’m especially excited about this and unless you’ve been ignoring my blog update, Facebook statuses and tweets you’ll know why. Yes, it features my short story ‘Jetsam’. It’s the first story in the book as well (which really means nothing as the book is filled with great writers)
The BFS publications have a very good pedigree so I’m extremely excited and proud to be part of that legacy. If you get to read the story, please do let me know what you think of it.
The story includes the artwork I mentioned earlier this month by Poppy Alexander. It looks brilliant in black and white next to the story but the colour version has added depths. If you’ve not seen it be sure to check it out on Poppy’s site.
The BFS Journal is only available to members of the British Fantasy Society. So if you want a copy, you’ve got to join. Full details can be found over at the BFS site.
I got a very nice call last night to tell me I’d won 4 tickets to the SFX Weekender. To say I was pleased was a slight understatement.
It looked like a lot of what I know as the “book crowd” were going and I’d regretted not booking when there were offers on. Whilst there are a range of celebrities available, it was catching up with these friends that I was more interested.
So getting free tickets was ideal. “Great,” the caller said. “I’ll ring back in the future for the names of your guests.”
Guests? Oh crap.
You see, like everyone I have various social circles: There are the old workmates, there are the geocachers, there are friends from when I used to do charity work, friends from the collector community.
The trouble is, they don’t sit nice together. They’re all very different types of people and whilst variety is the spice of life, I don’t want to take someone who finds the prospect of sitting in a bar and talking books all day, boring.
Yes, my friend A would love a free day out as much as the next person but I have visions of him getting pissed up and telling China Mieville to f*** off. I mean, he doesn’t even read.
My friend P would love to come and would be unlikely to cause a ruckuss but he couldn’t afford to come down to me on the train.
My friend N isn’t the greatest of readers but has a good enough understanding of geek culture. He did come with me to San Diego Comic Con after I got Billy from the band Good Charlotte to record a personal plea to his wife. But she’s expecting their first child within a month of the event, and it would probably be wrong for him to leave her for a weekend.
A lot of my US friends would dig it… but they’re in the US, so they’re hardly going to fly over just for this event. Not when they go to San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con.
And my book friends? Well it looked like all those who were wanting to go had already got tickets.
So this left me with a quandary. Here I am with 152 friends on Facebook (and no I don’t try and collect them, just add people I know / interact with) and I had no-one to go with.
Now I usually have no issue with going to events alone. And it’s not like I wasn’t going to meet up with people. But the thought of telling the organisers I had no-one to bring really, really bothered me. I felt like Nobby No Mates. Oh the shame! How would I ever live it down?
But thankfully my friend Simon is able to make it, and it’s like a huge weight off my shoulders. He’s a reader (in fact he’s an alpha reader for my novel although he’s kept fairly quiet about his opinions so far) and I’m always giving him fantasy books to read that he doesn’t like. We agree on the Lies of Locke Lamorra and Tome of the Undergates, but that’s about it. Still I think he’ll get on with the book crowd.
Not sure if I’ll get another two people before they ring back, but at least if I have one I won’t feel like such a Nobby No Mates.
Yesterday I sent you on over to Sam Sykes blog. Today I’m going to send you over to Pornokitsch and their review of Brandon Sanderson’s Way Of The Kings. Not for the review – although that is very good in itself – but for the insight into the issues with High Fantasy.
I have a real love for traditional fantasy but it’s often criticised these days for being out-of-touch and outdated. Instead New Weird and Post-George R R Martin gritty fantasy is the order of the day.
I often feel in the minority, because I honestly do believe Epic Fantasy could be… well, epic again. The problem is that I do agree with a lot of its detractors. High Fantasy needs a makeover.
It’s all too easy to write High Fantasy off as jingoistic. Elves and dwarves are written off as incredibly passé when all they’re just a shorthand. Yes, I do think that books where all the ’bad races’ are dark skinned is racism, intended or not. But an elf can be a metaphor for the upper classes, the intellectual… whatever the author wants. And if Fantasy is used as a format by which to compare and contrast our own world, those sorts of metaphors are very useful.
I see some writers who write races that act like elves, talk like elves, even look like elves, but are called some other name. This bugs the hell out of me. Thousands of years of folklore yet someone decides the name “just isn’t good enough”. Each to their own, I suppose.
One of the big problems Pornokitsch raised was with Destiny. Now I like destiny. It’s like super-foreshadowing. I said I see it as a contract between the author and the reader as if to let the reader know “it’ll all be OK in the end.” Now, as people wiser than me pointed out, there have been stories where that contract gets broken, but I argue that it can only be done by a skilled author. If you’re gonna break that contract with the reader, you better have something awesome to appease them with.
Pornokitsch said their issue wasn’t so much destiny but the fact that some villain slaves away to get where he is on merit alone (bad merit, but merit nonetheless) yet some farm boy wakes up some day, gets told they are the chosen one and gets a free pass to greatness.
That’s really got me thinking about prophecy and one of the reasons I love the way spontaneous debates just pop up on twitter.
Check out Pornokitsch’s review. There’s a lot of really interesting things there to consider for anyone who reads or especially writes fantasy. I’m going to be mulling over it for weeks.
Over at Sam Sykes’s blog today he talks about the new NBC superhero show, The Cape. I’ve not seen it but by all accounts, it’s bad.
Sam spends a lot of time outlining what he sees wrong with the series, focusing on the cardboard villain. He goes into some detail why he thinks this is wrong
“Batman’s stories are, essentially, philosophical debates. Nearly all his villains represent an ideology or philosophical point of view and none of them is more recognizable than the Joker. He’s gone through several iterations (several of which will undoubtedly be examples countering what I’m saying here, but that’s the nature of comics), but there’s been a few points that have remained largely the same about the Joker: he doesn’t really want power, he doesn’t really want money, he wants to prove a point.”
It’s stuff like this that makes me want Sam to write a superhero novel.
Superheroes are our modern day myths, the Zeus and Thor of the modern world. Just like the old legends, these iconic comic book heroes are modern day morality tales, linked not by a single narrative but thematic heroes and villians. OK, so as comic art has matured, so the medium has expanded to be more than that, but Batman is still about the darkness that exists in people’s hearts, Spider-Man is still about responsibility.
A superhero is measured by his foes. If, to use Sam’s point, superheroes are philosophical debates then you have to have strong counterpoints or it becomes one-sided.
Now I’ll argue to I’m blue in the face that you can have an evil lord in a dark castle and still have him be a three dimensional villain and that’s because of a point Sam touches on: character philosophy
My favourite comic as a teenager was GI Joe. Yes, I’m British but I’m a huge Joe fan (Do not get me started on that abysmal movie). What I love about GI Joe is that by all accounts, it should have been a trashy toy tie-in that lasted for 8 issues. Instead it was a great comic that many people wrote off despite it running for over 150 issues. It’s also one of the most influential things on my storytelling.
All but (I think) 2 issues were written by the same guy: Larry Hama, who I rate up there with Tolkien and George Lucas as storytellers who shaped me.
Obviously the comic had to promote the latest release of toys, which meant it was a comic series that had soldiers, advanced technology, ninjas, a Frankensteinesque monster created from the DNA of history’s greatest leaders, and villains who would seem outlandish even in the Marvel universe. But where G I Joe shone was inbetween all this. All these elements were weaved intricately into a single narrative and there were these little moments in the comic series where it just hit you. And because it wasn’t the sort of series that needed to hit you just sell you toys, the fact that it did made it all the more poignant.
Take for example the lead bad guy, one Cobra Commander. He should have been a cardboard character, the type who at the end of each comic would raise his fist and shout “curse you GI Joe”. But instead he was revealed to be a small businessman who felt betrayed by the American way, a father so intent on his crusade that he tries to kill his own son.
As with all good comic villains, he died only to return again for GI Joe’s 100th issue. And what a return.
“Citizens of Millville” he says. “Do not be alarmed. I, Cobra Commander have seen fit to bring the blessing of Cobra Domination to your pathetic little run-down municipality! We are going to bring you a new prosperity! New Jobs, new industry, new commerce! All this coupled withan end to crime and immortality.”
What I love about this is how he sucks you in. Why’s he the bad guy you find yourself asking? There’s obvious hints in the speech – the word ‘domination’ and ‘pathetic’ – but these are more to do with character than motive. I found myself as a teenager wondering if I’d misunderstood him. I could understand if he offered all that why people might follow him, join his cause.
But then there’s the next balloon
“Of course, this will mean curtailing a few insignificant personal freedoms that you won’t even miss much!”
Boom! It was like someone exploded my head. In that one sentence, everything is turned around. We realise why Cobra are the bad guys, we understand Cobra Commander’s philosophy, and we learn how much our personal freedoms are worth to us.
He’d so nearly clinched the deal for me, but that final balloon, turns it all on its head. Not only that but suddenly Cobra Commander has gone from a cardboard comic book villain to a misguided individual, full of depth. By saying what he does, I know WHAT the Joes are fighting for, and WHY they are the good guys. What’s more I learn something about myself and what I value.
This had a profound effect on me as a teenager and how I understood characters. Ever since I want the villains of my stories to have those depths, to offer a deal too good to be true, to have these conflicts of reasoning which turn the sweet apple sour. In fact, in my novel my bad guy – a Mr West – uses a version of this very speech.
“Of course the humans and dwarves, and even the elves would argue that without choice there was no freedom, but what use was freedom when all that was stopping people killing you or stealing from you was a thinly guised code of moral conduct. With choice, it gave people the right to do bad things to others. Where was the freedom from crime, the freedom of job security, the freedom of not having to worry about the course of your life?
No, Mr West told himself, the amount of choice here was bad.”
The GI Joe comic book still had the ninjas, the brainwave scanner and the biker gang, but it also had those rare moments of depth that lifted it from being yet another licensed tie-in into what I still consider one of the finest comic series of all time.
January, and the return to work after the Xmas has meant I feel exhausted. How I envy through rose-tinted glasses those who can write full time.
My spare time over the last few days has been taken up with the rewrite of a chapter. I’m taking it incredibly slowly and whilst the chapter isn’t a big one in terms of the overall story, there’s a lot of emotion interaction between characters.
This novel has had a long evolution. Even close friends have questioned whether I’m trapped in an endless cycle of re-writes. It’s very easy as a writer to get bored with the words after a couple of read-throughs and find yourself wanting to rewrite so everything is shiny and new again.
But my rewrites for the most-part are about making the story tighter, bringing the scene more sharply into focus, turning everything up to 11 on the dial. I have a story in my head and for a long while what was on the page fell short.
The first chapter has been rewritten at least twenty times, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was as high as fifty. The early versions tried to do too much, tried to tell too much story in too short a space. Subsequent versions moved elements back, expanding the world and the story chapter by chapter, rather than club you over the back of the head in chapter 1.
But the comments from friends always came back “you’re writing it again? The chapter is fine, leave it.” And it gets to a stage where I felt I had to make do.
But what’s the point of writing, if you can’t be happy with what you write? If I’m writing for myself, does it matter if I write a chapter fifty times? A hundred? A thousand times?
It’s easy as a writer to cheat yourself, to tell yourself you’re doing something for one reason when you’re really doing it for another. And then you worry that because all the “How To” books on writing tell you that this isn’t normal and should be stopped, you’re somehow doing it wrong.
But here’s the thing: there’s no right or wrong way to write, there’s only your way. And sure, sometimes you’ll get it wrong and hindsight will show you what you were blind to at the time. But if your gut tells you a chapter needs a rewrite because you’re not happy with it… rewrite it.
Sure, that’s scary. In fact it’s pretty fucking terrifying, because you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing, and you’re just winging it, and you worry you might be so completely fucking deluded that you’ll “screw everything up”.
You’ll write and fuck up and learn and grow.
And so this is why I came to edit chapter 30, read about a page and decided it needed a rewrite, whilst at the back of my head all the anticipated comments from my friends played out.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to those doubts. I’m really happy with the revised chapter 30. The few good bits from the old draft are still there but the rest is all new words. It’s tighter, it’s more alive and I think it’s some of my best work to date. I even made the point of really taking my time with it (about 500 words a day).
Now I have no guarantee that it’ll be people’s favourite chapter. Heck, I have no idea if anyone other than me will like the book. But I like it.
And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.