Thursday, 25 March 2010

5 Characteristics: Hard Work

For my MA we had to submit only 30,000 words of a novel to get the qualification. I remember walking with another student along to a reading the MA year group were doing as part of the Bath Lit Fest and asking how she was getting on with her book (that I greatly admired). 'Oh,' she said airily. 'I'm going to wait and see if anyone wants it before I write any more. I can't be bothered to do anything more on it unless it's going to be published.'

There were quite a few people on the course who felt the same way it turned out. I was amazed. And cheered, because at least I'd finished my first draft. It meant I was in the race instead of polishing my shoes on the side lines. However, because I'd done enough work to enter the race, I relaxed a little. Okay, a lot. When I sent the first draft out I knew that there were things that weren't quite right, but I didn't do the work to fix them. Deep in my heart, I hoped someone else would do the work for me. An editor perhaps, or the publishing pixies. Fat chance.

I don't think people really appreciate how much work goes into that first novel. I'm sure it's not a cost effective enterprise for most people, although deeply, deeply satisfying. My first draft was turned down. It took me two years to take my first novel from idea to a publishing deal and I worked harder on it than I'd worked on anything before. I worked on it when I didn't want to. I worked on it when I was tired. I worked on it when I was angry that no one loved it. I re-wrote and re-wrote, ditching about 90% of the first draft before the book got published.

The truth is, there are no publishing pixies. If you don't do the work, no one else will.


Johanna said...

Sarah, how did you know what to rewrite, what to change? Were you ever worried that in rewriting you might lose your voice and the spark of your writing?

Sarah Duncan said...

Really good questions, which hopefully the coming blogs will answer.

It's never ever occurred to me that I might lose my voice and spark, I think of it as becoming more like me. A bit like me with makeup, you might say. Certainly, I know from seeing student work at various stages that re-writing improves it. Sometimes it only needs the simplest things.

Anyway, let me know if the posts don't answer your questions, and I'll do some more. Tho not with more culinary analogies.