Take two weeks, and just get it done.
This was the last piece of advise given to me yesterday by a reader of my novel, Phil Mann. We had a meeting over lunch where he gave me his feedback and we could have a yarn about the direction my novel is taking.
Two weeks? Two weeks!?!
Needless to say, I freaked out a little. OK, a lot; but hopefully I projected a cool calm facade. Those who have played poker with me may beg to differ…
Confession time. I should really put that comment into context. Before Phil had said that, I said that I was afraid that I might be stuck in a continuous cycle of drafts – that twenty years hence I would still be tinkering away with January and her strange ways.
So; take two weeks…
It was a great meeting. I have had feedback on my novel which was less than helpful. The kind that pointed out the faults but didn’t offer any ideas. It is a skill to give good feedback, and I think the most valuable readers for me at this stage are writers. Very generous writers who take the time to read your work throughly and have thought the problems through. These are the kind of people that will rope off a hole and maybe put up a sign, instead of standing next to it, waiting for someone to fall in and saying “There’s a hole there.”
Solutions! I need solutions! And after the meeting I think I have them.
Now the way I have phrased this may be a bit misleading. A good feedback session for me is not someone telling me what ought to happen in my story. After all it is my story. It is not a case of Phil saying in chapter 3 X should happen and me dutifully running off to compose it. Rather it is a series of questions and ways of looking at situations that I may not have considered before.
I talked about how I had read a blog where the author had realised she was living her life on credit – waiting for life to begin and finding that it already had. I thought that that is what January was doing. Phil said, “Yes, but WHY is January doing that?”
We also had a long discussion about why I feel the need to trick my readers; to present a reality and them subvert it. I thought I had been doing it to amuse and delight the reader, but came to the realisation that I might just be doing it to show off how clever I am. I was shocked to think that I had forgotten my audience and was indulging my own ego, and then I was relieved as I thought of the projects I have been struggling with because I was trying to be too clever. The extra layers I’ve piled on Kiwiana Charlatan for example; and the reaction I’ve had over criticism on it. I see now that I thought I had something to prove and that attitude has got in the way of really writing. So with only a few days to my homework deadline, I’m going to start again.
I am also re-examining my “simplify and specify” mantra, I have been focussed on the superficial stuff (cut a character! Cut two!) to solve the novel’s problems. But what I really need to do is to get to the emotional truth of the story and characters. What I actually want to say. Then what the novel actually needs should be clear.
Lots of things to consider: Alice’s story arc, January’s secrets, the author’s point of view, Mae’s character and possible name change, graphology research…
In two weeks?
My most pleasurable writing experience was writing I Ain’t Nothing But…When I sat down to write it I felt everything come together; the research I had done on existentialism, the characters, the structure, the need for actors to come in and out to populate the stage of A Glimmer in the Dark she said, the gags – oh the glorious gags!
I wrote it in a night, but I had thought about it for much longer.
This is what I’m hoping for my novel. I’ll do the hard yards now – the extra research, the decisions about characters’ lives, the digging for the truth of the story. So when I have my two weeks it will all come together…