Do you ever look at something you’ve written and think: “What was I on when I wrote that?” In my case it’s beer and junk food. And it makes my writing awesome. At least until I read it back again, anyway.
I’m one of natures great word-fiddlers. I see something I’ve written and, good or bad, I just want to mess with it.
Case in point.
I’ve spent the past few days working on getting the mailing list up and running
The most important bit was setting up the rewards, i.e; the bribe. I want to actually give people stuff for their trouble. I thought about giving the whole first book for free, but that’d involve some technical wizardy that’s a bit above me.
Technically speaking, there were probably industrial age workers who could potentially figure out how to work a computer. They could probably travel in time and do my job. Meanwhile I’d probably lose a leg if I tried to work a steam engine.
I know it has something to do with coal, but knowing how I usually work, that coal would find its way inside my body at some point in the first day.
So instead of all this, I decided to take the easy route and upload the first three chapters of the book for free. It should’ve been a simple copy and paste job. Or so I thought.
I should know better than thinking, it always seems to get me into trouble.
I copied the first three chapters into my blog, but because of my aforementioned technical dumbfuckery, I couldn’t get the formatting to stay the same. So when I pasted the chapters over, they all came out as one great clump of words with no paragraph breaks whatsoever.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think people would enjoy reading a solid wall of text. Even if it is a wall that I’m particularly proud of.
My only option was to go back into my manuscript and copy it into my blog a paragraph at a time.
I’m sure there were other options. Options that you could probably leave in the comments if you want to make me feel like even more of an idiot. But like I said, I’m a technical dumbfuck and I stand by my decision to go the long way around what could’ve been a short journey.
It was a slow process, but it wasn’t particularly tedious. It was nothing compared to working a data entry job. At least here I could take toilet breaks whenever I wanted. I just put my headphones in and got to work.
Sometimes that’s the best way of getting through something.
But as I copied and pasted and sang along to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (don’t judge me, I don’t hassle you about your music choices) I started reading my work again. Well, skimming it really. I didn’t have much time to actually read the chapters in any kind of depth.
It’s been five years since I published Hair of the Dog, and I’d like to believe that my writing has improved since then. I should bloody hope it has. That’s five years of practice; two other parts to the story; two more first drafts of other novels; countless short stories and vignettes; dozens of blog posts and articles.
If I haven’t improved after all that then I’m probably in the wrong profession.
But as I skimmed through this writing that’s been five years published, I couldn’t help but cringe. Not because it’s bad. I re-read all three parts last year and I still stand by my belief that they’re the best work I could’ve done. And I still enjoy the story and the characters. But I couldn’t stop myself from trying to imagine what I’d do differently. I was taking lessons that I’ve learned from my five years of practice and trying to apply them to a piece of writing that’s been long out’ve the workshop.
That’s a dangerous road to walk down.
There’s no such thing as a perfect piece of writing. Especially not to the author. Especially not to THIS author. I’m cataclysmically insecure. I can’t read a piece of my own writing without wanting to burn it all down and re-build from the ashes.
I don’t think this comes from a place of self-loating; it’s more that I have a vision of how I want my writing to look. And if my writing doesn’t match the vision I have in my head, I want to re-write and re-write over and over until it does.
And no matter how good your work is, it’ll never be able to match what’s in your head. Nothing escapes your imagination without a few stains and tears.
When I first started Hair of the Dog, I had visions of a sweeping, multi-faceted epic stretching across an entire world. But once I actually started writing that story, I realised how bloody long it was going to be. My writing style is quite heavy on internal monologues and the personal thoughts of my characters. That alone has a tendency to double the length of every scene I write. And when you’re doing that with thirty characters or more you wind up with a million page doorstepper that most readers will look at like a punishment.
There are writers who can pull off this kind of narrative; Marlon James, Zadie Smith, George R.R Martin. But even at my best, I’m nowhere near their league.
So instead I parsed my novel down to a few core characters, with maybe one or two popping up for little vignettes as needed. The result was something a lot tighter, more story-focused, and it gave me more time to really play around with my characters and explore who they really were.
But even then I still compared myself to the greats, my inluences, the writers I was reading as I finished the novel. I’d get annoyed that my dialogue wasn’t as good as Elmore Leonard’s, my character monologues weren’t as gripping as Stephen King’s, and the plot wasn’t as electrifying as any of Gillian Flynn’s.
To be fair to me, what I lack in technical expertise, I think I make up in hard work. I started the second draft, hating every word that didn’t match my lofty expectations. I re-drafted, re-built, re-wrote. I hammered that book over and over until it matched the brilliant novel I had in my head.
But it never did. The dialogue was still not as good as Leonard’s, the characters still weren’t as engaging as King’s, the plot still didn’t run like Flynn’s.
So I went back to the manuscript. Over and over and over and over.
Eventually though, if you want to get anywhere in this business then you have to publish something. Nobody is going to pay you for your writing if you don’t have any writing to show them.
I’d like to think that the end result is a fairly decent story. It may not be what I had in mind when I started and I still cringe at it. Although now I’m not comparing it to great writers I admire, I’m comparing it to what I’m writing now. And what I’m writing now is so much better.
My options are either re-haul this novel every five years or suck it up and let it stand on its own.
You have no idea how hard I fought not to take that first option.
I think every writer wants just one more pass at their work because we’re all constantly learning and evolving as we go. Each word we write makes us better than we were before.
As important as good editing is, I think it’s just as important to know when to let something go. You don’t want to be one of those weirdos who endlessly tinkers with the same thing over and over for the rest of their career.
You really don’t, trust me.
Do you agree? Think I’m chatting utter shite? Let me know in the comments.