Rewriting

I had a novel idea today (no pun intended, honest). I thought I might type up the draft chapter I wrote for what I currently call The Quinta. This might not sound ground-breaking, but I’ve been stopping myself from getting any further into it until I have finished my young adult manuscript.

I’ve been so busy working on some short stories that I haven’t finished the edit on Queen@16 that I had set as a goal. In fact, I had all but forgotten about Brigit.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I hate her. I want her to leave me alone. I want to be done with her.

I love first drafts – they are like summer; rushing headlong, drinking Coke and wine and dancing on the beach and making new friends. With the first draft nothing can go wrong because the purpose is only to put words on the page. So easy.

Come winter, when I pull a first draft out of its autumn drawer to read it through, a draft blows through me as I realise there are gaps everywhere.

Then there is analysis to be done; there’s half a plot, blurred characters with odd motivations, but there’s no chance of running back down to the beach to see what happens – what new folk one might chance upon. Not if you want to finish something for a change.

Rewriting is staying with the people you already have, figuring out what they need. Hanging around to make things work.

It’s rereading chapters until they are so familiar you are blind. It’s threading sentences through and trying to match the colours, tilting your head to see if others will see where the join is. Removing words. Squinting at the page to see whether it’s better without them. Scything away chapters that you love, but no longer fit.

And all the while there is the calendar, days falling away, seasons come and gone.  Summer raises its eyebrows and beckons with a smile, as though to say ‘Start something new. A first draft will be so much fun.’

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Laughing

It has now taken me almost a year to get hard copies of my self published book ready for distribution. I first commissioned a package that would format my book, outsource print cover design and furnish me with files for various online publishing sites in around June of last year. This evening I have dragged myself together to upload the second batch of final print files to CreateSpace only to discover the last cover file I was sent was a jpeg not a pdf. So, I have had to go back to the designer and ask for another file.

In reality, by the time she can fit this into her schedule and I can once again rouse myself to enter the headspace required to concentrate on what I’m trying to do, it will be another week. And then I will have to wait three weeks for a proof of the book to arrive unless I want to pay another thirty US dollars.

Which all leads me to the conclusion that self-publishing a book is as joyful and painless as writing a twelfth draft of your manuscript.

All I can say is that it’s lucky no-one has tried to buy it yet.

Well, at least I haven’t lost my sense of humour.

Where is this story going?

After writing three full-length MS I am in a committed relationship with the short story. I’m not going to get a ring, but it’s serious and I’m blissfully happy right now. I do know there will be a time when I marry another full length beast but at the moment I’m learning something new and fascinating.

I’m rolling about in the hay with all kinds of zappy, snappy ideas, stretching them and moulding them to see what I can make (and how many metaphors and themes I can get away with smearing over them).

It’s a form I am not widely read in. (If you’ve read a Peter Carey short story why go out for hamburgers?) And I’m still figuring out what you can say – what the point needs to be.

My older shorts are generally parts of a larger whole that suddenly stand alone, and that’s how they evolved. But the short stories I’m writing now are beginning life as short stories too.

They often start out as an observation – a point I want to make, or a world I want to explore. But once I’ve drafted that crucial scene or situation I need to build a frame around it with protagonist, antagonist, character arc, so a reader can engage. That’s the part I’m still getting my head around.

What are the ‘musts’ with the short story form?

Naming things

When I am out of balance – a little too stressed, I can find it really difficult to engage with a book, or any form of reading. And there’s nothing worse for your desire to read than struggling to feel immersed. A friend has sent me Richard Flanagan’s ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’ which he has raved about, but I’m struggling to remember who the characters are and what the narrator told me yesterday. This may not be the author’s fault, it may be that my head is too full of chaos right now.

What disturbs me more than being unable to connect with the book though, is the feeling that I wont find another book that works magic within me. That concern becomes so real for me sometimes that I needed to remind myself of ‘my’ wonderful books – not the books I think I should love, but the books I do, or have, no matter what.

I decided to name them. Put them into my own hall of fame right now.

The Blind Assassin*

Oscar and Lucinda

Cat’s Eye

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor

Illywhacker

Ballet Shoes

Stark

The Life of Pi

Pippi Longstocking

Treasures of the Snow

Eve Green

Never Let Me Go

Fight Club

Oryx and Crake

Amsterdam

Theft: A Love Story

The God of Small Things

The Virgin Suicides

Atonement

The Secret Garden

What books would you put in your hall of fame?

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*I know I’ve done the seemingly unforgivable in leaving the author’s names away from this list. I have done it almost entirely for aesthetic reasons.

A share of the infinite pool

I hate standing in book shops. The shelves filled with books used to warm me with the delight one feels on the morning of a holiday – ready to be whisked away to a world of ballet schools and secret diaries. But now the rows and rows of writers make me feel overwhelmed, insignificant, just another wannabe writer in an ocean of words. I feel genuine panic.

I don’t just see the many published authors, I see also the tens of unpublished authors that sit just behind Rowling, Brown, Meyer, Sparks, James, who could have, perhaps, been just as lucky, if only the timing had been different.

In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron asserts there are no limits in the universe – that there is room for us all to be creative and successful and financially fulfilled, and I want to believe this. For a while I believed it the way a child believes in prayer, but as I become more pressed for time, and my achievements get lost in the ocean of sentences, I find it harder to believe. Or take comfort in it.

We have been led to believe that writing a book is some kind of herculean task that only the precious can accomplish. But when I open them and begin reading I am reminded that there are hundreds of enormously talented writers across the continents, building blocks of sentences, weaving thousands of stories. Writing, it seems, is not as difficult as we have allowed ourselves to believe. We are not so special after all.

There are many of us.

I wish us all inspiration, time to learn, energy to practise and a share of the infinite pool.

Relaxed ambitions

I’m so tired – everyone says. We all yawn in the office kitchen because we want to run away to Glebe Park. Beneath the trees we will suddenly awaken, no longer bored and folded into cages.

I feel guilty; that there is no reason for such tiredness, until I remember the many things I do each day – most of them alone, fighting the secret anxious battle I wage inside my body. And then at 9pm, when my angel is asleep I begin editing.

I have edited Lorelei’s Hand and Almost Twelve, at the request of a very lovely editor. (Editors who acknowledge your existence are surely lovely?)

I have edited Almost Twelve three times. I want it to be as tight as my office party smile.

At the request of another editor I have edited A Perverse Sort of Liberty. His mag is British and hipster so I’m stupidly delighted he liked Kinky because she is my favourite favourite character.

Amongst these textual wranglings is an increasingly long list of magazines to submit to. The copious sticky notes on my laptop remind me of competition deadlines, rewrites for editors, magazines taking submissions this month. They tease me with the growing pile of stories that need finishing.

And at the bottom of the list is a reminder to relax.

Writing is the journey, the joy. All else is vain fantasy.