So, I got about 25% of the way into reading the completed first draft of my novel and then I got completely stalled. I was at a complete loss to explain why, but I just couldn’t read on.
It was not that I thought the book was bad. I was pretty happy with the writing, the characters, how the scenes worked and rolled. Sure, I was noticing stuff I had to fix and making notes along the way. But something was bugging me. Something big enough to make me not know how to continue.
Then I had a long conversation via skype with my very good friend Marc Pienaar. Marc has been involved with this project since its very first brainstorm inception days when I was still considering a kind of graphic novel for the subject matter. He also did a sub edit of the first draft before I started with the re-read, so he knows the book well. Maybe better than I at this stage.
Anyway, what I had slowly come to realise was that this draft of the book was NOT the book I have been talking about. It is not this examination of Johannesburg where the city is almost a palpable character, a look into how the place has forged people. Not at all. And realising this I had become stumped. What to do? To make it into that initial idea? And if so how?
And this is where Marc stepped in. He suggested that I just let it go. “It’s like a song you took into band practise and the band finished writing… it may be a good song, but it’s not the song you took in there.”
Apologies to any readers who have never played in a band or tried to write a song, but this was the perfect analogy. This draft is not the book I had in mind. But it is a book. And a pretty cool one. Understanding this and letting go of those deeply buried ideas of where this book should go will help me look at the rest of the text in a new way, and guide my re-write accordingly.
Writing this post as also helped me see the draft in the context of the evolution of this idea: it was never even supposed to be a novel, but a graphic novel of sub cultures and semi mythic underworlds. Then it became about people in a city, with the city as a person. In the end, it’s just about people: People trying to make sense of a world that very often doesn’t make sense, about the power of your own decisions and how you choose to see the world. And that’s it. Pretty simple.
And again this is part of the learning that I have undergone as a person this year travelling. Learning to let go, to become spontaneous, to see the joy and the passion and not be so rigid about plans and ideas and structures. I still believe that without the form of structure, many ideas and good intentions are lost. But they are just as lost when the plan and the structure over-ride the thing!
So, just as I realised that I had been over-ridden by my plans and structures the last 5 years, I found this book has disappeared under my planning. But, as is the case with myself, something new and entirely unexpected has emerged from under that with which I am well pleased actually.
And that’s OK, I don’t actually have to control everything.