Tumbleweed and Tsunamis
It’s hard to believe it’s over a year since I had the news about a publishing contract. A whole year and now at last, publication is very, very close.
When I think back over the last twelve months, it felt, at times, as if everything was moving achingly slowly. Even though I knew plenty was going on in the background, I was impatient for 'my part' in the process to begin. And then there have been other times, where I’ve felt so hurried, so hassled and stressed that I was in danger of imploding: tumbleweed versus tsunami, in my head, at least. But even in the quiet periods, I realise now, things were moving along and I was learning. I learned about choosing book covers; about writing teachers' notes; wrestling with social media; setting up a website; I learned about book launches and blogging and bookstagramming. But probably the most important thing I learned was that getting a book out into the world is COMPLICATED. And as a newbie who doesn’t understand how all the bits fit together, it can therefore be intimidating and bewildering. Yes, you know there are going to be deadlines – this has to happen so that this can be done, and then this person has to do this so that these people can do this in time for that to happen … yet all you actually hear when it’s your manuscript is – ‘everything needs to be finished, and it needs to be finished perfectly, NOW.’ I realise, with hindsight, this isn’t what was being said to me at all, but it is sometimes what I heard.
And the problem with novels is they’re clumsy, unwieldy things. You change a date in Chapter Five and you then have to plough through the whole book making sure the timeline remains consistent in every chapter - back and forth, back and forth. But at least those are measurable, checkable things. What’s harder is when you have to write a new scene or perhaps subtly change a character’s response to something. Those sorts of edits take a long time - not only write, but to then fine-tune and polish. Initially, you read the changes back and yes, they sound okay – but when you return to them a day, a week later, they sound clumsy and awkward. It’s that smoothing-off, sanding down, making sure each sentence, each response, curls neatly into the next – that’s the hardest part. And there’s no way to judge that when you’re in a sleeves-rolled-up, high-pressure frame of mind. You have to wait until you aren’t. Wait until the pressure (the one inside your head, at least) eases.
So, my advice to my future-editing self would be to imagine the writing as that ball of tumbleweed. I should accept and expect it to move slowly, to gather very gradually and grow organically. I should not will it onwards or kick it along to try to hurry it up. Only when I stop forcing it forward can it be something other than a bolus of knots and tangles and instead grow into a well-rounded, smooth and natural whole.
Well, that’s the theory anyway …