Friends and family members have been asking me how it’s going with the rewrite. Which is sweet of you. I’m grateful for your interest, sincerely I am.
Only, what mostly happens is I look shifty, and say ‘Erm, you know.’ And look at the floor. Then I make something up, something I think sounds like a reasonable response.
The thing is, when I first set up this site I promised (myself mostly) I’d blog about rewriting and publishing a novel. So in the spirit of that original promise, this is how it’s going.
Some background: I wrote the first draft of this book almost a decade ago, and I was a different person then. It’s not that I’m no longer interested in the themes – I am, very – but my opinion on these themes has become, if not different exactly, at least more nuanced.
The impulse to write this story came from something inside me I was trying to understand. I was trying to get to grips with a feeling, not by looking it in the face, rather by sneaking it up on it, sidelong, with a scalpel. Which feels as difficult all these years later as it did first time around.
And it’s a very different impulse from saying, oh yes, here’s a coherent story, upon the like of which commercial fiction is predicated. More a case of, what the fuck was all that all about? So, now I know a bit more about the technicalities of writing, about how to control pace and suspense, and how to structure a story, to what extent do I try to make it into a ‘straighter’ thriller, hammering out its quirks? And if I go too far with that, do I risk removing all the things that make it interesting?
As Iris Murdoch said, every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. But what about an idea that’s imperfect to start with? What about an idea that’s downright bonkers? What then? Eh, Iris?
Having looked at this website, a friend asked, ‘So, hang on, it’s a thriller about breastfeeding?’ Erm, well no. It’s not a thriller about breastfeeding. Of course it’s not. Because that would be ridiculous, right?
Agents who read early drafts of the book and liked it wanted me to write it again. They didn’t say ‘this is worthless, forget it’. They said, ‘this is weird. But it you can get the tone right, it might just work. Try again.’ Still, I eventually got tired of trying again and without more tangible encouragement, the book ended up mouldering in a drawer. Then I found a publisher who loved it enough (in all its glorious weirdness) to want to publish it. On the condition I rewrite it first.
Sometimes I think my biggest problem with the book is that people might read it. Other times I worry that no one will read it, which is the psychic equivalent of being stuck down a well.
And here’s another thing I think when people ask me how it’s going: although I profess to love writing, it’s often quite a slog and I’d rather be looking at Facebook. As Amy Poehler wrote:
And while we’re at it, does everyone who makes stuff have an inner voice that counsels despair on the basis of utter crapness? Other writers have told me they feel this way. Guillaume Morissette’s helpful infographic (above) certainly seemed to strike a chord with people. In response to that particular malaise, there are bloggers advising writers to ‘ignore your inner demons! Don’t engage the critical voice that tells you it’s not good enough. Have faith in yourself and push on.’
Which is good advice if you’re bashing out a first draft that nobody’s actually gonna read. But how do you learn about what’s good and what’s not without listening to the part of you that isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings?
Recently, I’ve been listening to that critical inner voice, whilst attempting to filter out the more abusive content. Like when the inner voice says, ‘God, you’re such a terrible writer, you should just give up, you loser! I don’t know why you think anyone is interested in anything you have to say, but if anyone ever does read this, boy, you’ll be embarrassed then. And you should be embarrassed! And by the way, Chapter four is the most tedious pile of drivel I’ve ever read, etc, etc,’ I’ve been concentrating on taking a deep breath and replying with, ‘Thanks. I’ll take a closer look at the pacing in Chapter four.’ And I’m usually glad I did.
So in conclusion, I don’t really have any conclusions on how it’s going. In their place I have some wildly lurching thoughts and quite a bit of anxiety. I’m not sure I’m able to hammer these into something coherent to tell you when you ask how it’s going with the rewrite, because the go-to part of my brain for hammering-into-coherence is too busy rewriting this crazy book.
But thanks for asking. Really, that was sweet of you.