Wednesday, 23 March 2011
REVISION, REVISION, REVISION
The title says it all. Well, nearly all.
The other bit is that I’m still trying to take in the fact that I’ve been offered a contract with this wonderful women’s press:
- and I have a few months to revise my novel.
I thought my book was 'finished' - or as finished as I could bear it to be. Which, I suppose, is the point. There comes a time when you just cannot - or will not - stand to go through it all yet again, and so you tell yourself that it's done. My novel's been written, critiqued, revised, reported-on, and line-edited (dozens of times). The title's changed, one of the main characters has gone into first person, themes have been de-emphasised, attempts have been made to 'lighten it up' and a new beginning has been written.
Linen Press have asked for more changes - some of them changes which others have suggested, but which I didn't know - or told myself I didn't know - how to do. And the more I enter into the spirit of revision, the more there is to do. I'm discovering themes I wasn't aware of. My characters have other, deeper, stories which send reverberations through the novel. The clues were there, but only now, as I dig deeper, do I 'get' them. New characters are appearing. Even the title is throwing up fresh symbols and meanings. And I'm discovering the steps to a new dance (as well as the Happy Author dance): the dance between micro and macro - from the tiny word-or-phrase edits that subtly change the emphasis or trajectory of a sentence, to the plot overview where whole swathes are being reordered and rewritten.
And then there are those passages that have always niggled, somewhere inside me, but which I've never addressed head-on. There are always more darlings to kill, more purple prose to send packing. It's scary - I hope this work is improving the novel, but I can't really know. I'm too close to it.
What am I learning? That every book contains many versions, all hidden in different clefts and crevices of the original. Books are like people. They're much bigger - and deeper - than they may appear. They contain more potential than we're ever aware of. There's always more to discover, more to learn and we can go on being surprised by ourselves, and by our writing, as long as we live.
Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright puts it perfectly:
A successful writer did not write the book you open in the shop. The successful writer wrote about sixteen crap books, and kept working them, and rearranging them until one less crap book was born. Never look at your work and despair - this is hard, it takes nerves of steel - look at your work and then work at it.