Christmas is gone. 2014 is here. Time to pack away your party clothes and get back to the coalface: the work you stowed away, out of sight and out of mind, is back and demanding your attention. After all, you said you’d try to work whilst you were away but did you? I didn’t. I carried my manuscript between two sets of parents and looked at it not once.
So: sitrep. As you know I’ve been asked to rework Night Shift for an agent and it’s this (and this blog) that’s occupying my tiny mind at the moment. As my Dad insightfully pointed out, Christmas could either be the best or the worst thing for me. A break could either disrupt all progress or it could provide a much needed glass of perspective and soda. Before the enforced merriment of Yule I was fighting my way through a particularly knotty section: cutting, pasting, adding new linky-bits and removing odd extemporaneous phrases. Three weeks on and that’s still what I’m doing.
This is the first time I’ve done anything like this. It feels like I’m trying to rebuild a house from the bottom up. Up till about page 100 I was happily repointing the brickwork, occasionally fitting a new window. Now I’ve realised that the foundations are unstable. I’ve dug down and found a burst pipe has washed away all the mortar. So I’ve had to buttress the superstructure, remove all the sodden bricks and replace them in an entirely different configuration. Will anyone notice what I’ve done? They shouldn’t: all this work should be carefully hidden from sight, never to be noticed until the whole structure is finally condemned as uninhabitable (or, possible, given Listed status).
Anyway, the point is that five or so pages have now become seventeen. But were that all it is…
It seems that to avoid unsightly joins in my rebuilt dwelling I’m going to have to dismantle some of the walls as well. A west-face might now become south. Those new windows will once more need replacing as I realise they no longer match the scheme…
Enough of this extended and increasingly tortuous metaphor. The point is that this is what writing is. Thanks to expert critique a number – a significant number – of structural problems have been revealed to me. It’s possible that these issues might never have been noticed by the casual reader – they weren’t noticed by me, the author – but that’s no excuse. The agent was right: plot-holes and illogic must be banished if I want to produce a narrative that convinces and envelops.
So I work on. Cut, copy and paste have become my best friends. New files containing isolated fragments of the novel have sprung up in my hard drive like bacteria. Finally I feel like I’ve got past the ‘knot’ that was preventing any real forward progress.
But every change affects every scene ahead. I’ve dragged in material from further on, saved some for later. I’ve started to forget how the whole thing fits together. Lost sight of the bigger picture, so concerned have I been with this one particular section. This isn’t such a problem as long as I have time, at the end, to go through the whole thing again and smooth out any (inevitable) humps. I’m not concerned too much about the words, not right now. I’m wrestling with alligators, can’t stop to admire the pretty fishes.
This is what writing is. I hope – I very much hope – that I’m learning lessons from all this. I hope this is a valuable lesson for me and that future work will prove easier, plot-holes less likely to bubble up to the surface. Or, with my cynical hat on, I hope that this establishes some sort of a reputation for me and that future is less scrutinised, as seems to happen with successful authors.
No, I don’t mean that. I want to produce the best work I possibly can. I’m a writer. This is what I do.
But it’s anything but straightforward. Anything but easy.