I’ve always admired those authors who schedule their writing every day, tapping away between one commitment and the next. I wish I could – but I can’t. I seem to need to get away from my everyday life and binge on everything to do with writing in solitude. Then I do nothing else for a few days but read, review, edit and write … usually half-way through day two the story and the characters have arrived to colonise the brain, nudging and suggesting and arguing … and it all starts to happen. From time to time I remember to eat, stretch, go for a walk … all grist to the mill.
How very inconvenient! But how very enjoyable, too!
It’s a generous act, to give feedback to a writer. Right from the start you’re teetering along a tightrope, trying to find the balancing point between being helpful to the text and being destructive to the fragile ego of the writer. If you want to preserve a friendship with him or her, you’re clutching that balancing bar even more tightly! It’s a skill all of its own.
I’m just getting feedback from three readers of my latest novel in draft. To make it easier for them (and for me) I gave them some questions to answer. So now I’m examining their verdicts, looking for commonalities, pondering over differences. Reading a text is just as individual an experience as writing one!
They do agree it should be published, somehow or other. I’ll brood on their comments for a few weeks before I tackle the next draft. I know It will be all the better for their collective sharp eyes and brains. I’ve never written anything that hasn’t been improved by me gritting my teeth and handing the mss over to be dissected! Now I have to decide how much of their sage advice I will take. In the end, the novel is mine and mine alone.
I’m editing the first draft of a novel at the moment. As every writer knows, that involves re-reading the text with an eagle eye and questioning the value of every chapter, every paragraph and every sentence: what is the point here? Do these words advance the plot? enhance the atmosphere? give more depth to a character? As they say, every word has to earn its place. Otherwise, what are they doing there? Hit delete? This can be a very painful process!
I’m increasingly aware that exactly the same questions apply to my hobby of photography: what is the point here? What is that photograph about? what point is it trying to make – or what story is it telling? How can that point be emphasised? With the wonderful photo-editing software so readily available these days, photographers can spend many happy hours asking themselves these questions and trying to tweak the image to answer them. Now that process is more addictive than painful.
Suddenly, there they were on the screen – the two words so dear to the heart of every writer: The End.
My sixth novel, tentatively titled ‘On the Edge’, has dragged me into territory untrodden in life as well as art. That was scary! What started off as a short story, then flirted with becoming a novella, has ended up as an 85,000 word novel. Well those two words don’t mark ‘the end’ at all, of course, just the start of the long haul of converting a draft into a final mss – which will then be sent to a few trusted readers for close scrutiny and criticism to generate yet more work for me, before The End really does signal The End. Then what? Time will tell.
A year to write, and another year to edit – that seems to be what it takes for me to produce a novel, while I manage to live a life at the same time.
I needed a reprint: the last reprint of ‘Loose Ends’, the first novel in my Annie Bryce series, ran out and the original files were no longer available. Orders are still trickling in, though, so perhaps, I thought, I should produce a revised edition. After all there were a few errors in the first edition, which should at least be corrected. So I reread the book for the first time for years. It was first published in 2006, and of course written a couple of years earlier. How technology has changed in that time!
So here’s the dilemma: how far should an author go in a revised edition? Should I attempt to update the whole text where technology was concerned? I decided against it. I did, however, remove some of the detail about communications, photography and other technology. That should be a lesson for the future. Whatever technology I’m using today will be obsolete tomorrow, so the less said about it the better, unless its integral to the story.
There’s a lesson to be learned every day when you get in to writing and publishing.
One of the perils – and responsibilities – of being an author is critiquing the work of other writers. I’ve recently been reading a novella, a beautifully presented piece of work by a keen first time author. I remember the feeling well, of giving my very first real attempt at fiction to a respected writing colleague for an opinion. It was a bit like passing a cherished child over to the dentist!
I find it’s always a difficult balance to strike when I’m reviewing work in progress. It’s no mean feat for a new writer to produce a coherent 25,000 word story, and credit must be given for that. So where do I draw the line between praise and (hopefully) helpful criticism? The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone. But many writers fresh off the starting block see their first draft as the finished product, and want to send it off to be published while they get on to their next project. I have learned the hard way that I need to take at least as much time to rewrite as I do to write the first draft – of anything. Maybe that should be the last of my comments on this particular piece of work?
Anyway it’s been a salutary reminder that I should take a closer look at issues like pace and tension in my own fledgling novel. It’s all too easy to roll along, letting the characters tell their own story.
I’ve taken the mss of my new short story collection ‘Pick and Choose’ to my beach getaway to review, edit, and sequence the nineteen pieces in this collection. Two hours at a time is all I can do without seeing double and losing the plot.
For once it’s cool and cloudy, a lovely day for photography. I find some shoes and a hat, grab my camera, and take myself into the nearby coastal forest for a long walk through to the beach. You know you’re getting closer by the sound of the waves pounding on the sand. Getting away from my work in progress is as important to me as every other part of the writing process. Reflection adds perspective for us all.