I’m at that stage when my writer’s draft is being scrutinised. It’s a vulnerable time. You think and hope your work is done, but it isn’t.
You need perspective from the words you’ve been jotting down. In the case of my present novel, “Mavis and Dot”, it has taken me ten years to complete, from idea to story. But, I used the word complete. It is not!
I’m resorting to my favourite manual to guide me. In Chapter 10 (Revising) of The Creative Writing Coursebook, Paul Magrs writes: “It’s often necessary and important to have other people look at your work during the revising stage. You can look at your own writing from all sorts of points of view, but the things that other members of a writing group can tell you will always surprise you… You can’t let yourself become precious about your work… or retrospectively defend its weakness.”
Within the same chapter, Julia Bell in her passage, Feeling the Burn, says, “To revise your own work you need to be able to look at it as if you were not the writer.”
Easier said than done and I was definitely feeling the burn this morning after a couple of pieces of (useful) feedback from beta readers, which nevertheless hurt and confused me to some extent.
I was at the tantrum stage: fighting my own corner, stamping my feet like a sulky toddler over opinions about my main characters – the stars of my story. What to do?
As always, if I am in a quandary, I walk and sort my thoughts.
I started along the tangled hedgerow of the old road to the town, where cow parsley, campanula, vetch, orchids and poppies competed with one another, smothering the grass verges.
I waved at Lino, who used to live in our watermill, as he cut hay in his field. Half was sorted into rows to be raked up, the other half was still to be done.
Sauro’s makeshift green house was next along the way. Inside, tomatoes were still ripening, whilst raspberries were almost ready to harvest.
A neat pile of wood was stacked, ready for next winter. A job nearly done.
Bees buzzed in hives at the edge of a newly mown field. They are such hard workers and I lingered to watch them arrive and depart from their hives. They never stop.
I was three quarters of the way home when I passed through our neighbouring hamlet of San Patrignano. Professor Tocci’s vegetable garden was neat and tidy; evidence of hours of toil. By his daughter’s house, a beautiful rose bloomed.
On the last stretch, I gazed at a field of poppies and the hilltop with the village of Montebotolino perched on the edge. I seemed to have found perspective during my walk. I’d concluded that writing is a hobby, but also a job. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, like the tasks I’d come across along my walk.
So, onwards with the revising. I need to listen, but I also need to be independent and, in James Friel’s words: “… in the end … be your own critic, be your own cheerleader, and there are days when you will need to be both.”
My next task is to make an honest appraisal of “Mavis and Dot”, by writing down my own doubts and anxieties. And then to move forward.
How do others cope at this stage? What strategies do you use? I’d love to hear.