I’ve had a problematic relationship with my current work in progress.
There are lots of reasons for this. I didn’t plan it to within an inch of its life before I started writing, too impatient to get on with it to worry about my individual character plotlines or the scene spreadsheet. “I’ve done this before,” I thought, “I’ve got this.” Ha!
The early stages of writing were interrupted, repeatedly, by publishers rejecting my first book. I had to put it to one side and focus on rewrites. I felt weirdly guilty about leaving my new characters – as if I’d just breathed life into them and then left them hanging around with nothing to do while I spent all my time with my old friends. It felt rude.
And when I was able to turn back to them, it was because of failure. A few British publishers had expressed interest in book 1 but none had offered, even after all those hours of rewrites, all that bloody effort. It was hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm for going through the whole miserable process again.
It felt hard. The words came slowly. I set aside writing days and sat grimly at my desk for hours, forcing out a few hundred words like a chicken laying a particularly large, square egg.
I dimly remembered the experience of writing the first book, utterly unable to think of what came next, how to move the plot forward; but the memories didn’t seem real. By then, book 1 had found a French and then a German publisher, and I was fond of it again. I looked back on the days of writing it as a sort of golden period, telling myself that the words had come freely, that I’d known what I was doing, that everything – the idea, the planning, the execution – had been better than the current exercise.
I bitched about book 2. I couldn’t find a good word to say about it. So consistent was I in telling anyone who asked how irredeemably rubbish it was, that when I eventually considered it in a decent enough shape to ask people to read it, the Husband – my biggest cheerleader – couldn’t work up any enthusiasm to do it.
Poor, unloved book 2!
It’s on its fourth draft now – two more than book 1 had before it went out to publishers – and there’s still a lot of work to do. But somewhere in the last couple of weeks I’ve found something I’d been missing before. I’ve actually started to like it.
I’ve come across bits of writing and thought, “That’s not bad.” I’ve realised I care about my characters. I can see there’s more depth to my story than there was last time around. In short, it has its good points.
What has brought about this change of heart?
Partly, I think, it’s that the re-drafting has improved things. Sheer time and persistence have succeeded in editing away the worst horrors.
Partly, it’s that my agent has asked hard questions that, while at first they made me want to go and cry in a corner, also made me realise that I do know my characters better than I thought I did. That they have more about them than I’d given them credit for. (Now all I need to do is find a way to transfer that knowledge to the page.)
And a big part is that two of the three people who’ve read and commented on it so far, people whose opinions I respect, have said that they prefer this book to the first one. That makes me happy. Really happy.
I know I probably shouldn’t care so much about what other people think. I know we’re all supposed to write for ourselves, blah blah blah. But I’m writing fiction – I want people to enjoy it. A bit of encouragement goes a long way.
So it’s back to the “to do” list for draft 4 and a half. And if I don’t have a song in my heart, there’s the beginning of a tune on my lips. And no matter what the outcome with this book, one thing I’ll remember from all of this: sticking with something helps. Even if you can’t see a way of it ever getting to where you want it to be. Even if you think it’s rubbish.