I know there is a prevailing opinion amongst the kind of writers who write ‘how to write’ books that you shouldn’t spend too much time perfecting each chapter of your novel as you go along. ‘Just get it all down then play with it later’ seems to be the general view.
I don’t know about anybody else but I do know that doesn’t work for me. Not even a little bit, as Son No 1, the Ultimate Frisbee Freak, would say.
I can’t just plough on if things aren’t flowing, if there’s an unevenness further back in the story which I’ve neglected to smooth. It’s as if the flow is running away from me with a momentum and a direction all of its own. Suddenly, the story isn’t the one I thought I was telling - my characters get moody and sulky and say things I’d say instead of sounding like themselves; events don’t glide effortlessly into place, they stumble and trip along.
You know how sculptors say that the shape is there in the wood/stone/whatever and they just have to reveal it? I feel like that about my books – the story’s sitting there in the interface between my subconscious and reality and I just have to see it clearly. Too much of the conscious mind, the making it happen, and it dies.
I remember, years ago, before I started writing, listening to interviews with writers who would say things like ‘I wanted my character to do x, y and z but he wouldn’t let me do that!’ and I’d shout at the radio ‘You absolute twit! You’re making it up! You're in control!’
Little did I know.
But humble pie doesn’t taste so bad when the truth is so much more piquant, so much richer, than my thin little assumption.
Today, having reached roughly the mid-point of the new book, I have spent most of the day back in the first hundred pages, working out where the historical strand should have come in. It’s currently introduced on page 157 and it’s holding everything back, like a slow family at the barrier-end of a busy railway platform.
Hopefully, now I’ve listened to the story properly, it’ll all flow nicely again tomorrow and we’ll be out of the station and singing along the tracks.