I’ve been in London for six weeks. My friend Sarah had her baby, number two, little Milo (as pre-empted in this old blog. It was truly awesome, seeing one human being come out of another human being like messy Russian dolls – a big exhausted, delighted one, and a small, greyish, wrinkled one, still folded up in the shape of a womb.
But the miraculous veil wasn’t as thin this time – apart from Milo, we all knew a bit better what to expect, and he came out in only three hours. We were home in time to eat a crispy duck takeaway at 1am!)
Meanwhile, I’ve been heavily pregnant with this book of mine. I got myself a deadline – the day that the first draft goes to the editor. Suddenly all of the other little concerns of life that had been bothering me like fruit flies for five months got swept away as the book became everything. I have been sitting at the desk for 12 hours every day, some days 16, and revelling in it.
Some days were hard, as I dragged the story through the tough bits; other days the story took hold of my fingers and wrote itself. I’ve had to relive every day, and sometimes found myself accidentally switching from the past tense to the present by mistake because it all felt so very right now. When we were directionless in the tale, I felt directionless in the story. When we galloped along the coast of Wales, the keyboard clattered away too.
Ego? Make mine a double!
It’s a feat of serious ego to write a book, throwing words into a digital silo, day after day; standing on the mount, holding on to the belief that I have a good story to tell. ‘Hey everyone! Lend me your ears! I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!’
The enormous support of everyone reading this ‘ere blog, and on Facebook and Twitter, and all of the blessed Kickstarter people*, have given me enough confidence to see me through, on an overall level, but on a daily grind level… Well, when I discovered this neat quote which was (probably not) by Hemingway**, I understood where he was coming from:
Of course, Ernest really went for it. I’m not going to go down in history as any kind of liver-sacrificing loose canon – I’m far too busy being wholesome and optimistic. I do keep writing past midnight, but generally about silly things a donkey does, rather than staring into the chilly abyss of human mortality.
For me it’s been a wee glass of wine, or – when it was really hot a few weeks ago – a large glass of ice, gently melted by a modest rinsing of bourbon. But when the room is quiet and the mind is still, even the smallest amount of alcohol really soaks helpfully into the ego, whispering, “Sure, we all want to know what you’re thinking. Tell us more about what you had for dinner that day. What colour were the clouds? Come on, you cheerful old lush – tell us everything! Your every thought is valid.”
‘Edit sober’ is coming up fast though. I’ve booked in an editor who, in the first instance, will take the manuscript and do the big-picture stuff. Narrative structure, story arc, pace and tone – all of the bits that I can’t see at all anymore. I’m really enjoying polishing the wood, but she’ll tell me what the trees are looking like – the overall shape of the forest.
She comes highly recommended but I’ve never met her, and so all she’ll know of Chico, the story and me is what she reads in the 100,000 words. She’s a travel author herself who edits for some big publishing companies, so I know I’ll be sending my tender green sheaf into professional hands.
When she gives it back, I’ll have a month to make the changes she suggests. I don’t know what to expect of that stage; I guess I’ll be working slowly through my tangled brambles with an arsenal of strimming, trimming, sawing tools supplied by the editor. Perhaps there will be lots of chopping and hacking involved. But I’m excited. This is the biggest thing I have ever made, and it will be good – I think – to have someone else come crashing in with work gloves on. I will be sober, but I might have to take up some vice: snuff, or yoga, or donkey visiting, to help with the smoky crackle of ego as we throw armfuls of brushwood – the scrub of overworked analogies and dull anecdotes – on the fire.
If we drag anything out that isn’t too badly rotted, I’ll saw it up into useful logs, and pile the bits of story up under a tarp for use as deleted scenes – writers’ cuts – at a later date.
So, I am back in the garret, looking over the rooftops of Aberystwyth, sensitive again to the relentless seagulls. I have bought some food that requires no preparation, and shall be sitting right here until next week’s deadline, finishing this great thicket of story. Pinning the tale on the donkey, maybe.
Nothing needs to be done but writing, and… well, I guess I need to go and see those donkeys. They’ve been well looked after by my lovely mum and a kind local family who have kept him entertained, and they all report that both donkeys are svelte, healthy and a bit bored. Flo will come bundling over to say hi, I’m sure, but Chico… I think he’s going to be pretty cross with me.
Like a big coward I’m leaving it till tomorrow…
* Kickstarter fellows! I had hoped to be sending the book out in October, but, um, I won’t be… I’m told that this is how every Kickstarter goes and that you’ll be sympathetic to – nay, expecting – this sheepish little footnote. The new date depends rather on just what prognosis the editor delivers, but I think it will be after New Year, but before Chinese New Year. Definitely before Thai New Year, promise.
** ‘Write drunk, edit sober’ is often attributed to Hemingway but might actually have been written by an author called Peter De Vries about a character based on Dylan Thomas, and really, whoever said it, it’s still a good one. I could research further, but I’ve got a book I should be finishing, instead of enjoyably wasting precious time googling alcoholic writers.
Here’s more of the quote: “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”
So it wasn’t strictly ego and confidence that he was thinking about. But I am, and there’s a bottle of rosé in the fridge…