So, I’m sorry I’ve been so absent for a while. I decided to concentrate all my efforts on finally finishing my novel. Convinced I didn’t have too much left to do, I set myself a deadline of February to get the novel to a point of (near) completion. It’s now March, and I’m still a very long way away.
As is the case with all things creative, that ‘finishing point’ never seems to actually occur. In my mind, I’m not too far from completion, but this thought merely stems from the fact that I’m a lot further on from where I started.
Sometimes I find working on my novel extremely frustrating, especially when the light at the end of the tunnel just seems to get further and further away. When I get stuck it’s hard to ignore the endless stream of doubts flooding my mind, telling me to give up and sack the whole thing off as a bad job. When your faced with doubts elsewhere in life (having a rough time at work/in a relationship etc.) it’s customary to call on the advice of your friends and talk the whole thing through until you can be a bit more objective about it.
For years, I’ve been convinced that writing a novel works in much the same way; when you get bogged down with your words, when you’re at the point of hovering over a trash can in an abandoned car park with your manuscript in one hand, a lighter in the other, you should be able to call on someone for help instead – some kind of creative guardian, for example, who will read your work in progress and tell you exactly what needs changing.
But this person doesn’t exist, or at least not for unpublished, losers aspiring writers such as myself. It’s only now, when I’m inching ever closer to the end of my first novel, that I’ve finally realised that the only person you can rely on to advise you, is you. You have to be your own mentor. The words of wisdom about which characters should be killed off in a freak nuclear disaster, and which chapters should go straight to the recycle bin, come from you. And what’s even more frustrating about conceding to trust your own opinion is that your opinion on your own work doesn’t form while you’re writing. It casually rocks in a few weeks/months/years later.
That’s right, you can be objective about your work after you’ve locked it in a drawer and got addicted to Street Fighter IV. Then, three months later, when you finally decide it’s time for the big read through, old, objective, logical you will be ripping out one chunk of your novel after another until there’s almost nothing left. And then you start the whole process of drafting new chapters all over again. It’s a little bit of a slow job, I realise, but other than a professional editor, who else are you going to trust to give you good honest (and useful) feedback?
Some of my friends and family have offered to step up but this has proved problematical, and usually prompts one of the following reactions:
1. They say, “Yup. I liked it…” and then never mention it again… This is possibly because a) they didn’t like it and don’t want to hurt your feelings b) they did like it but don’t really want to discuss it in any depth c) they didn’t read it.
2. They give you a lot of feed back. A lot. More than you were anticipating. Not all of it good, which is fine so long as this criticism isn’t coming from someone you a) live with b) sleep with c) are friends with d) know is illiterate.
The bottom line is; it isn’t easy to take criticism from a friend. And that isn’t just with writing. Ever had someone “make a suggestion” while you’re cooking them dinner? Ever had someone say “well, if I was doing that I would [insert lengthy description of doing something here]…”? On the inside, you know they’re only trying to help, however, the mere fact they’re even suggesting that they know more than you do causes an instant bruise to the ego and makes you want to punch them in the face.
Trust me, I know. I’ve not only (frequently) been on the receiving end of such ‘friendly’ advice, but I’ve also been the smug twat dolling it out too. A while ago, a friend gave me a first draft to read through so I could let him “know what I thought”. Within minutes of reading, I was zealously marking it like some kind of power-corrupt school teacher. Merely being asked for your opinion makes your ego flick into hyperdrive, and you end up acting like a complete dick, or in this case handing someone their work with snarky annotations all over the typeface.
There’s nothing worse that getting something like this back from your ‘friend’ after they’ve looked at your work:
Before I go, I should mention that I was bitten by the zombie rabbit (it hurt) thanks to my recent online bud, and man of writery wisdom Steven Chapman.
In order to keep the zombie blogging virus award (type-thing) going, award winners suggest other blogs on their site. As you might have already noticed, links to my favourite blogs and sites are on the right-hand side of the screen under the title “Jo and the Love for Other Bloggers”. To save me the ball-ache of typing it all out again, may I suggest you peruse the side bar, and give my zombie-bitees a visit.