The last six months I've mostly been concerned with getting my buke Rockadoon Shore into a shape where it will be less liable to make me cringe in about two years time. It's due out in less than a year and the editing stage is pretty much done, thanks in huge part to John Murray editors sending notes and emails. Aside from visions of my old English teachers all showing up in a bus to tell me I've made a work of mediocrity, what has been concerning me most over the last while is the idea that two years or so from now, I'm going to open this book that I wrote, read the first line, and think to myself, 'Balls'.
That's natural enough, and there's a large chance that in the future, no matter good the book is, I'll think 'Balls' anyway. That's just the nature of craft and growing and outgrowing your own inclinations, and you can only really do that by working on what you have, now, and trying to make it better. If you think something you wrote five years ago is still flawless then you probably haven't grown all that much as a writer. What that means for getting something ready for publication though, is that there's a weird balancing point between being lazily confident in what you've done, and working something to death out of insecurity. You either leave something undercooked and fatty like a soggy rasher, or you pare every bit fat off it and work on it so long it's a lean, overcooked rasher. Either way, shit rashers.
The idea of the last six months for me has been to do short sharp bursts of energy on the book so that I see it fresh, cut away the major annoyances, get stuck into into the sentences, tinker with them, whittle shit down and make it smooth, and then get out before I just start hate-hacking everything away and be left with a manuscript 25 pages long. Then I get a big ol' break until I'm relaxed and bored enough to start going again. My between-edit solution a month ago was to take a trip to the beach. Problem was it was still winter in Ontario and the beach was frozen.
It's really the waiting around part that can be frustrating. You have to wait for your memories of your previous draft to drift away, to let your anxieties and nerves settle and then to try and see the book new again, and there's really no way of speeding that process up. The times in between drafts can also be a pain in the arse because although they're not short, they're not altogether long either. It's not enough time to start work on something major and dedicate yourself to it. You kind of just have to dillydally around doing bits of things.
Here, for instance, is one example of a dillydally:
Yeah, that's an egg. I tried to draw a vague outline of the plot of my book on there. I firmly believe this would have gone much better if my drawing skills had advanced beyond the level of six year old, but oh well. I was happy enough though that I managed to get a pretty good representation of the arc of the book down onto such a small area. I was disappointed to find out photographing curved surfaces was harder than I thought. Other methods of distraction have included short fiction, project (read: long) books, gym sweating and loads of movies. I live around the corner from the Royal Cinema in Toronto, which shows old, weird, and kung fu-y type movies, so I've been camping out there a good bit of the time.
The fury-editing/waiting stage is almost at an end now though, and what's ahead is about six months of nathin, when I have to get back writing new stuff and working on another book. It's that or just sit around tapping my foot and looking at my wrist for the watch I don't wear. You also realise that for all the work and creativity that's required for editing, it's only possible because the initial material has been written. Any day you can go in and say 'Ah, I'll just mess with that chapter", and it'll be there waiting for you. Starting fresh on something is harder. When it comes to getting back to work, it's that horrible sight of the blank page again, mewling at you, taunting you, going, What you got, man? What you got?
Once the last of the editing is done, and the manuscript can't be fiddled with anymore, I've got a date with an A4 ruled piece of paper with a feisty attitude and nothing to lose.
Gonna put that piece of paper in its place. It's been coming a long, long time.