I have a pile of paper on my desk which is almost two inches tall. It’s neatly stacked and clearly laid out; it is double-spaced and indented for new paragraphs and dialogue; each chapter has its own new page. It is 254 pages of hard work and mental toil, and it is mine.
Yesterday, I did my ‘last’ edits (I say ‘last’, but of course I don’t mean it – I’m sure I’ll have filleted the whole thing and sewn it back together again before the year is out.) The book is now at a stage where I’m happy to leave it to one side for a few weeks, hopefully allowing me to come back to it with fresher eyes and a more acute editing brain. The entire ending has been restructured, which involved working back through the whole book in order to shift the plot around slightly, just enough to make room for a new dénouement, and almost 10,000 words have been sliced out of the MS in the process. It’s now at about 76,000 words, which is still a little on the long side, but it’s a whole lot better than it was.
Also, recall if you will that the word count for ‘Tider’, in its first incarnation, was 150,000. I think that deserves some sort of editing award, or something.
I have a huge amount of words in my Offcuts file, too – something in the region of 60,000 for this book alone. Many of my favourite scenes, including whole chunks of lovely, lovely dialogue which were funny and sweet and so wonderful to write have ended up on the metaphorical cutting room floor. Entire characters have fallen. As plotlines shifted, huge swathes of the book became redundant and could not be salvaged. I have to admit I find this merciless cutting a little bit easier now than I have done in the past, but it’s still not a lot of fun to realise, after you’ve been grappling with a beloved paragraph for a few hours, that it’s just not going to fit any more and needs to be retired to the scrap-heap.
Printing the MS has a few benefits. Mainly, it’s easier to read from paper than it is from a screen, and reading from a printed page makes you feel like it’s a ‘real book’; I’m still of the generation, I guess, who feels that when something’s down on paper it’s legitimised and made official. However, the most important benefit to printing, for me, is the fact that it serves to move me forward in the writing process. That might sound strange, because I now intend to leave the printout alone for as long as I can before continuing with the work, but what I mean is this: if I left ‘Tider’ on-screen, I could literally spend the rest of my life just tweaking and fiddling with it. When it’s on a computer screen, and saved in a file, it’s an amorphous, unfinished thing, malleable and never-ending; it’s all too easy to allow yourself to keep waiting for it to reach a certain, undefinable point before printing it. ‘I’ll just fix this bit… oh, and that bit… and maybe I’ll rewrite this paragraph… and, you know, perhaps I’ll just fidget with this character for a while…’ This sort of procrastination could go on forever, unless you pick a point and just print the thing, and so that’s what I’ve done. Now, finally, I can – with any luck – come to the final stage in the whole process, and get it ready to query.
Having said all that, my brain is still clanging with things I want to fix and change. Every few minutes I think of something else that needs to be altered. ‘This reaction here is unrealistic’, or ‘surely if event A has just happened, event B would unfold a bit more like this…’ – but I’m trying to quiet that inner voice, just for now. I’m certain those observations will occur to me as I read through the printed MS in a fortnight or three weeks, or however long I can force myself to leave it. Printing the book and then trying to come back to it with the eyes of a reader, instead of a writer, is a vital thing; it’s so hard to get a feel for the story overall when you’re stuck right in the middle of it. Getting a broad view is important in order to work out whether the story makes sense, has a logical progression to it and – most vitally – is interesting.
So. While I’m waiting for ‘Tider’ to settle in my brain, my plan is to work on short stories for a little while. There are a few competitions I’d like to enter, including The Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest, which I can’t recommend any more highly, and I’m looking forward to changing ‘format’ for a while. Breaking away from writing a long-form novel and getting stuck back into short stories will, I hope, help me to forget about ‘Tider’ for the minute as well as enjoy the process of creating something new.
It’s all action over here this Thursday! Hope your day is going well. It’s almost the weekend, folks… hang in there.