Will it look like you wanted it to?

I have just learned a massive writing lesson. The novel I spent more than 5 years working on needs an amount of work that, as my editor puts it, is just not worth it in terms of productivity.

Simply put, from a professional, publishing point of view, the book just doesn’t work. The way I have gone about it is flawed. Reading the feedback, I also realise that the book simply just does not DO what I set out wanting it to do. Further, now six or so years later, I am not sure that I want to do those things either.

No marked road
No marked road

So, what were YOU expecting? Writers work in LOTS of different ways and for lots of different reasons:
* Some have a very firm idea of what their story is, and how it needs to develop
* Some discover this while writing
* But most of us have a pretty good idea of how we want it to feel, or the kind of impression we want it to make on our audience.

Things is, this quite often doesn’t quite turn out the way we saw it
WE think it does that, but our first readers don’t see it

So WHAT do you do?
This is the question that has been plaguing me since I got towards the end of my first draft of this beast of a novel I have written. I knew there were problems. I was beginning to suspect they were big problems.

1) Acceptance
I needed a professional opinion before I could move into acceptance. You might need less or more than that. But you are going to have to accept that things have not turned out how you wanted/expected. At this point, point 2 through 4 become applicable.


2) Changes
Well, you’re going to need changes. This means that you’re probably going to need an outside opinion on what needs changing and advice on how to change it. In my experience, this is very hard information to get. I ended up hiring someone I know and trust to be very direct, honest and technical with me about these issues. Up until this point I had received very vague, quasi-helpful responses. I understand why… I would also be vague and quasi helpful when confronted with a 200 000 word manuscript a friend had written!
Point being, there will be changes and you need to accept that. Novels take a long time to write. You may even have changed your ideas halfway through.

3) Walking away
This is actually a bona fide response. And it is where I currently stand with this novel. I need to learn from these mistakes and move on to something new. Not everyone is this way. But it’s OK. As long as you make the effort to correct the errors, walking away can be a sensible thing. Go somewhere new, start afresh, apply what you have learned. The old manuscript will always be there. Maybe one day you can come back.

4) Going with the flow
This is what I had been trying to do. I realise now you need to be a far more experienced novel writer than I to be able to do this. The implications on plot and voice are so huge that to just reactively sway with them requires a far deeper understanding of the behind-the-scenes mechanics of your plot than I certainly have of my manuscript. Which is not to say you can’t do it… but it aint easy!
full notebook
If we’re talking novels there are some really important things to bear in mind:
It is a long term effort. As a result:
YOU change
Ideas change imperceptibly
When you are working from thumb nail sketches, there are very small margins for error/deviation. Tiny things that change in the writing have a reverse effect on the thumbnail impression the whole leaves. Maybe just accept that. Maybe just trust the process.

Me, I am definitely walking away for now while I try to get to grips with the technical implications of what I have discovered.
Its possible fiction isn’t for me.
We’ll see.

2 Responses

  1. Andrew de la Hunt-James

    Good job! That takes guts and humility. Thanks for sharing something so personal. You didn’t waste a thing. You’ve still got lots to share. All the best with the next adventure! May it be more than you could even imagine.

  2. David Chislett

    Thanks Andrew! Yeah, onwards and upwards hey!

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