The first time I finished my novel I was amazed that I had managed to create a vaguely coherent entire book. After the first edit I was still pretty excited. Following the second draft I was quietly contented. This time, I put the last full-stop in and went to hang the laundry out. It's not that I'm not glad to have finished, it's just that the euphoria of having written a novel is somewhat dampened when it's the third time you've written it. Finishing a children's novel is becoming a familiar feeling!
It's not just finishing either. With the completion of another version comes the familiar insecurities as well. Suddenly, what seemed like scintillating dialogue feels cliched. The fast-paced fight scene is something you're sure everyone's seen before. The touching moment of re-union is not so much tear-jerking as vomit-inducing. That's when the fiddling starts - a tweak here, a tweak there. I've had to send it to my Mum to proof-read for me to stop myself playing around with it and making it worse!
Being objective, I'm pleased with it. Every draft has been better and richer than the previous one. It is by no means the best book ever written, but it's alright you know. Some bits, I'm even quite proud of. The thing I most worry about though is getting the balance right. Have I explained everything properly? Have I over-explained things? This is particularly tricky when you are creating a fantasy world (or five in my case). How do you get the message across without being patronising?
We humans are pretty bad at getting a message over when it's something close to our hearts - like a first novel! Take Christianity for example. The message is insultingly simple:
- We may not all be murderers or adulterers, but none of us is perfect. We are all grumpy/angry/jealous/human somtimes.
- If there is to be true justice then everything we do wrong must be dealt with. We can't set some imaginary line and say that everything up to that point is fine and everything after it is not fine - everyone would draw the line somewhere different and we'd spend our whole lives making deals (I illegally downloaded a music track today, so I need to help an old lady across the road tomorrow)
- God is big enough to deal with this. He says, "OK guys, I kind of like you and I don't want you to spend your whole life feeling guilty and counting the stuff you do wrong. So here's what I'll do: I'll send my Son to deal with all those times you snapped at someone or lied to a charity collector in the street or parked inconsiderately. He'll take the responsibility.You just have to accept that that's what I've done and we can get on with life. Deal?"
(OK, I may have paraphrased the bible a little there!) Yet somehow, Christians (and I'm not excluding myself from this) have managed to take this message of, "you don't need to feel guilty any more" and let it come across as, "you need to feel really guilty about being a terrible person". I'm not saying there aren't important things to think about but we let something we never believed in obscure what we do believe in.
All that was rather a lengthy illustration of how easy it is to get the message wrong. Can I be sure that the central theme of my book - approximately, 'being a hero isn't about being good at stuff, it's about making the right choices' - won't come across as, 'being a hero is about being really good at stuff'?! Just like God is probably banging His head against a brick wall sometimes when He watches His message being mangled, perhaps all writers have to accept that once the story comes out of our heads and on to a page, it doesn't just belong to us any more.
What do you worry about most in your writing or work? Does it bother you or excite you that something you create can be interpreted differently? Are you an over-writer or an under-writer? (I'm definitely over!)
For anyone else about to start another draft of a novel, may I point you to this article
for some helpful, last minute advice. Happy September everyone!