It took me the best part of a decade to write the first draft of my book. That’s a long, freaking time.
In 10 years, a lot has changed, not least me. I’m a very different person to the borderline-alcoholic, early-20s buffoon that started scribbling down a scene on the tube. Now I’m a moderately sensible 30-something borderline-alcoholic, with a new-found love of reading.
As I’ve changed, my characters have changed, my plot has been twisted and my world has been turned upside down. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end – but their relation to each other is warped, as though light refracts through each Act.
Not to mention changes in minor details like characters’ genders, which at times switch at a whim.
I call it the Chaos Draft.
And so, in order to achieve some semblance of order, and to rescue a story from the Chaos Draft, I’m now editing the bejeezus out of it.
These last six months have been integral to that process. I have attained focus.
Aside from the inherent psychological medicine that half-a-year of travelling around Asia provides, I also found the book reviews I wrote invaluable. You see, I had lost the analytical perspective drummed into me at University.
On top of that, the range of books I was forced into reading from shabby hostel book exchanges gave a real sense of the publishing spectrum. Each read was a discovery…
I was reading ruminative rural drama, steampunk monster stories, meta murder mysteries and the utter drivel of 21st-century military thrillers, specifically from acclaimed hack Dale Brown. The latter might well be the most illuminating – to write well we must first understand what it is to write uncompromising dross.
And in the midst of this analysis, I turned to my own work and viewed it for the first time through a reader’s eyes.
Sometimes you have to step back from your creation and view it without the forgiving gaze of a doting parent. Sometimes you have to be able to look at your wide-eyed, innocent child and say:
“You are one ugly bastard.”
Of course, no matter how gut-churningly revolting your spawn may be, you shouldn’t immediately neuter yourself with your biro – jabbing the blunt instrument into your genitals rather than facing your mutant offspring.
No, you need to keep going. Either buy the child a nice hat, or maybe teach it some charisma (if that’s possible). It might be ugly, but at least it might become charming.
If it still appears hopeless, go about birthing another, by erupting your word juices over your laptop until your progeny is born.
My own fat, wallowing book-child is also a little schizophrenic, with a few mangled limbs from a catastrophic plot-quake.
The infant requires some counselling and some prosthetics, that’s all…
And maybe a few months on the Atkins diet…
It might well grow up to be a valued member of literary society, given the right opportunities.
But without nurture, it will stumble around my dreams like a lame apparition, infecting my every thought with regret.
What if I’d given the creature a chance? What if I’d tried to understand where it was coming from, its pain? What if I’d just listened?
Now, hold her down. I’m about to operate.