Writing a novel is a bit like having a child. You watch it develop from an embryonic thing into something beautiful (hopefully). You nurture it, you correct it, you watch with wonder as day by day it surprises you. You invest huge amounts of time and emotional energy into it. You expose it, tentatively, to the gaze and input of others, you feel fiercely defensive of it. You send it out on little forays into the world, and eventually, you have to let it go.
Last week, I let my baby go!
It’s had its final edits and off it’s gone to the publisher who will now send it to the proof-readers. I hung onto it way longer than I should have done, tweaking and re-writing, but there comes a point that, imperfect thing that it is, it has to be let loose.
Before I got my publishing contract, I had one goal – to get that offer. I couldn’t see beyond that horizon. After that, my life would be complete. But when that moment came, along with the euphoria came fear. This meant that people would actually read my work. It was no longer a thing I was just playing with, this was for real. So I’d better make sure it was as good as it possibly could be.
I got the contract towards the end of last year and was given a publication date of March 2019. I thought, how can it possibly take so long? But when I looked at the publishing schedule it made sense. There are so many stages the book has to go through. First there’s high level edits where the editor points out any inconsistencies or areas that need work. A character might change a little too abruptly. A scene might not quite hang together. There may be too much detail in places, more description needed in others. Some of the comments came as no surprise, others were things I’d simply not thought of. But there was nothing I disagreed with. And this stage bought me time to hone the manuscript, fill in any plot holes and do the research I’d failed to do while I was only playing.
After that came two line-by-line editing stages, a chance to polish up the prose, chapter by chapter. There was one scene in I couldn’t get right, so I worked and reworked it up until the deadline. Still not happy, I asked for more time, and carried on reworking right up until the extended deadline. Eventually I was in such a state of anxiety about this one scene I was no longer seeing straight. I sent it to a friend, who said it read fine, so I let it go.
I had hoped to get one last read through of the entire manuscript before I pressed send but I know if I had I would have carried on tweaking.
Somebody told me once, a poem is never finished, only abandoned. Maybe the same is true for a novel. Is any writer entirely satisfied with every line they’ve written? Does an author ever get the finished, published novel in their hands and not find a passage they want to go back and change?
Yesterday I was at a event in Nottingham where I saw a critically acclaimed author speak. It was reassuring to hear that even she, despite her success, still worries that what she’s written might be rubbish. Self doubt, it seems, is a part of the universal author experience.