Last night saw me finally compile the novel in Scrivener for import into Word. After nearly 6 months of revision, this feels like a momentous milestone. There’s still some work to do, a couple of continuity things to tie the start and end of novel together and possibly one chapter that might need a rewrite (given one alpha reader’s negative response to it). So that bottle of champagne I bought for when I finish the novel revisions has to wait for a few more days.
Not sure whether the revision process has taught me anything or not. I think future novel revisions will be much quicker but as I’ve said, I had the time to work through the revisions slowly so don’t regret taking as long as I did.
So what do I think? Well I can’t say whether it’ll be a book anyone will want to publish or either a book anyone will like but it is a book that if I was reading it would be one of my favourite fantasy novels of all time. As someone whose inner critic is always saying “you can’t write Faulkner, this isn’t good enough” getting to the stage where I love it has been a long one with many, many rewrites. But it just feels “right” as a novel. There’s a beautiful symmetry going on, a rhythm to the story which I’ve spent a long time mining. And then there’s some fantastic characters that despite pouring what must now be thousands of hours into the book, still manage to entertain and delight me. It’s definitely its own thing which I think counts for a lot these days.
So now I have to do the final bits of tidy up and then it’s off out to more people to read. I’m both excited and scared. There will no doubt be further bouts of revision in this novel’s lifetime but I don’t think any of them will be quite so mammoth as this last bit of revision
I’ve been fairly quiet about work on the novel recently, so much so that a few people have asked if I’ve stopped work on it. In answer, no it hasn’t and the editing work still continues. However, a few things have gone on that have made me sit back and take stock of where I am and what I’m trying to do.
The editing process has been dragging on for months now and I cannot begin to tell you the ridiculous number of hours I’ve put into it. For the most part, I’m pretty happy with the basics of what has been written. Characters, plot and pacing seem to be as I want them. Of course, there are spelling and grammatical mistakes, sentences that need to flow better, and the odd chapter that needs rewriting to punch it up a little. It’s been slow work, but in general I’ve been happy.
No, that’s a slight lie. Since Xmas there has been growing unease, not with the work but the time it was taking to edit it. The lack of a deadline meant I was taking my time and really working on it. And that meant that some evenings I’d just sit at my desk, staring at a sentence or passage willing it to reveal what was wrong with it to me. It wasn’t productive.
On top of that I had other worries. I want to do this and I want to do it well. I want to be a joy to edit, I want to turn manuscripts in on time, I want the business end of things to be as professional as possible. Yet there was part of me that got more and more dismayed the time the editing was taking. I’d said to myself last year that I needed to turn around a novel (writing and edits) in 6 months. This book has now taken years.
And so I found myself starting to worry about book 2. What if I got a contract and needed to deliver the book inside a year? Could I do that? Really? I mean top-notch writers like Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch are popular enough that their publishers don’t mind them taking years on a book. But someone like me? Pfff, even my considerable ego doesn’t put me in their league.
And then there was what I was writing. I guess one of the reasons I write is because I can’t find the sort of fantasy I want to read, and this book is very much written for myself. But from online discussions, it just sometimes felt I was the lone voice. I found myself getting very frustrated that I didn’t seem to be able to communicate my vision of what I was trying to do to these people. That’s not a good position for a writer to be in.
And all this built up like a steam kettle inside me, until I realised I needed to step away and take a breather for a week or so.
I think this was wise, as it allowed me to gain a little perspective. You know, I think my book is a damn good one, and I think people will like it but the fact is I don’t have a book deal yet. May never get one. I’ve got to meet a lot of authors in the last year, have quite a few I consider friends. And you know what? They are not super-human. They do not have super powers that got them a book deal, they just wrote a kick ass book. I have a book I think is kick ass and to which a lot of people have been largely positive. But you know what, that’s not the only idea I have. I came up with an absolute kick-ass idea at SFX Weekender that’s been growing in my head ever since.
March is open submissions at Angry Robot and there was part of me that considered rushing the book to get it into them. But you know what, for whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like the right path for me (Angry Robot possibly, but I’d prefer to go in agented). It’s better I take my time to make it the best it can be rather than rush it.
I realised that I have all the time in the world right now so instead of getting frustrated about the time it’s taking, I should stop making a fuss and just keep on chipping away at it. I’ve found myself rewriting a lot of the end, just to tie up a lot of the emotional arcs and make it feel more like the end of a book rather than the end of a part in a book. I have a chapter and a half to go, although that may expand to tie up some character arcs. But you know what, I think the story works, and these extra chapters strengthen the story.
So in answer to the question. Yes, I’m continuing to write, just trying to get it done rather than worry about it and cover every possible outcome.
I would like to get the revisions done by Eastercon though!
When I was a young man, not so long ago, all I wanted was validation. You see after my years of working in pop culture I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. But I’d (mistakenly) avoided reading a lot of fantasy for a number of years in case it influenced my work.
So I come back to find that fantasy had evolved and what it had evolved into was very different from what I wanted to do. And that filled me with fear. You see some of the elements of fantasy I really, really loved were considered the epitome of uncool. I mean, who the fuck writes elves these days* (even if they are folklore based rather than a Tolkien rip-off)?
What I wanted people to tell me was that it was OK. What I wanted was people to tell me that my brand of fantasy was valid.
But here’s the problem. People have preconceived ideas when you talk about the type of fantasy I want to write. Heck, I’m not even sure what it is: some blend of urban and epic fantasy with a splash of swords and sorcery? But yeah, people thought that I just wanted to write Tolkien fanfic, and as a result would look at me with sorry eyes and tell me “those tropes just aren’t cool any more. We’ve all moved on”.
And of course, I got angry. I got really angry. Because that’s not what my brand of fantasy is about and they were dismissing it for something it wasn’t. Oh the rage! The rage! And the more they dismissed it, the more validation I wanted.
What I failed to realise was that
- A) I was never going to get the validation I seeked from those people. Rightly or wrongly, they have their own preconceived ideas about my type of fantasy.
- B) Of course my type of fantasy is valid. It’s quite commercial and even if it wasn’t that doesn’t make it any less valid as a branch of fantasy.
- C) If I slightly altered my brand of fantasy to make it more appealing for those people who dismissed it, I’d be watering down what’s so special about it.
So the trick is to not go looking for validation because I’m not going to find it and even if I do, it ain’t gonna change horseshit.
And that’s why (if you really think about it) all this fuss over the Booker and the SFF snub on World Book Night is all a lot about nothing. The literary might dismiss SFF as pulp but as far as I can see a lot of the last 150 years’ worth of classics came from what we would deem the pulps.
Plus we get zombies, pirates and hundred foot tentacle monsters.
*well aside from James Barclay
I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I think all this Bankrupt Nihilism talk brought things to a head.
It could be some of the things I’ve been doing in the Geocaching world have taken a priority (such as my new Geocaching blog Crackcacher or my 6000th milestone find) have distracted me temporarily, but I honestly don’t think it’s that.
I think I reached a stage where partly through enjoyable debate with people I like, partly through frustration of genre’s lack of respect for their forefathers, I suddenly knew who I was and where I stood.
One of the things my lack of self-confidence produces is the need for validation, both of my approach to fantasy and my actual skill as a writer. But here I was thinking “bollocks” to it.
I know what I want to achieve, I think it blends elements I love about traditional fantasy with some new and exciting things. It’s not what other people are doing. That’s always been the fear and worry – that I somehow wasn’t doing it properly. I realised I needed to stop worrying about whether it was valid or not. That’s just stupid.
These debates made me realise that I do know what I’m talking about. I’m certainly not infallible and I still have much to learn, but that doesn’t invalidate what I’m writing about.
And for some reason, I realised I needed a week or two time out. Possibly just to see whether this was a temporary thing or not, a passing mood. Yet, ten days on or so and I do feel I’ve grown in confidence.
Of course, I do realise all this could be a diversionary tactics from finishing the last chapter and a half of revisions. Maybe, but I can afford that time right now, so perhaps the little break has done me some good.