Why do you write? Why put ourselves through hours and hours of work, thought, typing, rethinking, planning, editing, proof-reading, drafting, rethinking again, only to throw it away when we realise it just isn’t going to work?
I’ve been struggling for weeks with The Blue House. The first few chapters just weren’t working, and I had also decided to pare it all down from 100,000 words to 90,000. That was easy compared to the problems I was having with the start. Even my tutors on the Arvon course could see the problems. Steven said ‘I kept thinking – this is the start. No, this is the start! No, it would be better to start here!’ He also said ‘It’s not a good idea to start a novel with a funeral.’ Mavis said ‘I think it’s fine to start with a funeral, but don’t start with the voice of a cockney taxi driver. Think about what is the first voice your readers hear. Make it the protagonist.’ She also said to tell a complex story in simple words. Good advice – remove all the high-falutin’ language and flowery stuff, and stop showing off my extensive vocabulary.
It was tempting to give up. I have been through three major restructurings of the entire book, and about five serious editing sessions. It seemed that the problems with the structure were insurmountable. It starts with characters who do not appear again, it switches between present and past, it has a ‘book in a book’ format, it has a ‘false ending’, it starts with a death and with the protagonist inheriting lots of money (which should be a happy ending!) All these issues were hampering me.
But – but – but I feel like I’ve nailed it! Finally, after a fifth rewrite, I have got a start that I am happy with. Paring it down and simpler prose has also helped a great deal. I downloaded it onto my Kindle and read it through as if I was a reader – as much as is possible when it’s so familiar. I felt as if the pace was perfect, the characterisation good, the mix between action/dialogue/description/introspection correct, the switching between present and past was clear and the false ending only confusing for just the right amount at just the right time to give the reader a good ‘oh, I get it!’ moment. In fact, even though I wrote it, I enjoyed reading it. That wonderful feeling of achievement, of conquest, of success. I don’t know how long it will last, but today I am feeling very happy and very satisfied with myself as a writer. Which is why we do it, I guess – for that feeling and to produce a book that we and hopefully others will enjoy reading.