When you’re engaged in creating a new WiP – or, indeed, any piece of art, or anything in general which is unique to you – it can be hard to know whether things are going okay. Is the idea any good? Have you ‘nailed’ the voice? What of the characters – do they make sense? Are they compelling? Interesting? Dang it all, Jim, are they readable?
I’m going through this at the moment with my latest opus. It doesn’t even have a name, and so frazzled is my brain these days that I can’t even think of a witty and/or suitable codename for it. Suffice it to say that it is another pseudo-historical MG romp through unknown lands in search of a high-stakes goal, in the company of a boy and a girl who are thrown together by circumstance. There’s adventure, technology, survival by wits, a very intelligent arachnid, a mysterious Machine which does something indefinable but very important, and it’s stuffed full of adults who want, variously, to steal the arachnid and/or stymie the Machine and/or nobble the boy and the girl, or all of the above. It’s standing at just under 20,000 words at the moment, which leaves it about 1/3 completed in its first draft (by my usual wordcounts, at least), and I have a Plan in place for at least the next three chapters. I’m sort of ‘piecemealing’ it at the moment, planning only far enough to get me around the next corner. It’s working admirably so far, Lurgy and anxiety and life-distractions notwithstanding. I know where I want the final scenes to be; I’m imagining them taking place in a spot I’ve actually been to, once, on holiday – the most impressive site I’ve ever seen, I think – and the landscape just fits with my vision.
So, there’s that. I have 20,000 words, a partial plan, and an endgame. And that’s all. Until the other day, nobody else had read so much as a syllable of this work, unless you’ve sat beside me in my local café while I’ve been poring over my printed-out typescript and stolen a glance at a line or two. (Don’t laugh – it happens. People’s eyes tend to be drawn to large piles of paper and a person sitting over them, sighing and scrubbing their hands through their hair. Try it, sometime). I had no idea whether any of it worked, or if it was even worth carrying on with.
But that’s where it can be a great thing, sometimes, to be brave.
A while back, I shared the first chapter of this nameless, shapeless entitly with a person. A person who is not my mother, my significant other, or anyone who owes me money. A person who has no vested interest whatsoever in telling me what they think of what I’ve done. And that person, a few days ago, took the time to say that they liked it. Not only that: they really liked it. And they feel I should definitely continue.
I can’t put into words how much of a relief this was. I felt like a sheepdog getting a subtle nod from the shepherd, or an apprentice watching the barest flicker of approval dance across their master’s face. The person who read my extract is a published author, y’see, who has another book coming out shortly, and so they’re someone who knows what they’re talking about. To be entirely fair, they’re also a very nice person (and I’m damping down my inner voices which are screaming at me: ‘they only said they liked it because they were being NICE to you! That’s all!’), so I hope they were also being objective – but I have no reason (no logical reason, at least) to think otherwise.
All of this means I hopefully have an idea with legs on, a ‘goer’, something worth pursuing, and a voice worth following, so I intend to do that until the bitter end. Being brave and asking for feedback won’t always get you a response like this, of course – but sometimes a ‘No, I don’t think this is working’ can be as useful as ‘Yes, sure, carry on with this’. The important thing is to be brave, both in the writing and the requesting of feedback thereon, and to keep going.
My Lurgy has almost lifted (I hope). I’m feeling better today than I have felt for two weeks. So, today, my friends, will have words in it. And I feel good about that.