A Writer’s Life

This blog, as you will have noticed, is called ‘This Writing Life’, and I think it’s time I returned to my theme. A couple of years back, I sent my first nov­el, Déjà Vu, to agents and pub­lish­ers. None of them wanted to buy it. Ho hum, I thought, and returned to tinker­ing. A few months passed. I sub­mit­ted it to The UKA Press — more than any­thing, I wanted to get the thing into book form so I could have some clos­ure — and they were happy to pub­lish it. My ela­tion las­ted about four months, the point at which I received the editor’s report. Blimey. She wanted me to rewrite some chapters, remove whole char­ac­ters, and make view­point changes that would impact upon the whole work. But my dis­ap­point­ment — every writer wants to be told he or she is an effort­less geni­us — las­ted about as long as the email. I could see, even in the foot­hills of that sud­den work moun­tain, that these changes would improve the book. And who would want to turn down the oppor­tun­ity to improve their work? So I made the changes, added some of my own, pub­lished the book, and ended up with a book that had some great reviews (and one or two poor ones, to be sure).

Lesson learned. If I had been bolder in my efforts to make changes pri­or to hav­ing them sug­ges­ted by the edit­or (those sug­ges­tions con­firmed sus­pi­cions I was too lazy to fol­low up), then those same reviews might have emerged from the mouth of a com­mis­sion­ing edit­or at a major pub­lish­er. Two points. First: That’s a big maybe. Second: This takes noth­ing away from my ori­gin­al pub­lish­er, The UKA Press, who were will­ing to take a chance on me when no-one else would. Anyway, the les­son is this: I will not sub­mit a manu­script to a pub­lish­er until I think I have solved 99% of the prob­lems in the work. I’ve left out that 1% on the assump­tion that it is not pos­sible for an author to fully edit his own work.

So, for much of this year, I have been work­ing on later drafts of a com­edy nov­el called Proper Job (set in Cornwall dur­ing the 1999 eclipse), and an early draft of a thrill­er called Flashback (repris­ing a char­ac­ter from Déjà Vu, Saskia Brandt). If the first les­son is edit edit edit, the second is learn­ing when to stop. Proper Job has been edited to with­in an inch of its life, and is almost ready to send off. Feedback from crit­ic­ally-minded friends has been a sprink­ling of the pos­it­ive with plenty of the neg­at­ive for me to work on. One described it as ‘A mix­ture of Adrian Mole and Last of the Summer Wine’. When I said, thanks, I’ll just throw myself off a cliff, X quickly added that this was a good thing. Meh.

Flashback is still embryon­ic. The first draft was writ­ten in a con­tinu­ous ses­sion between November of 2005 and March 2006. In the second draft, I star­ted with a blank doc­u­ment, rewrote most of the book while work­ing closely from the first draft, ommit­ted scenes that weren’t crit­ic­al, and made sure that good scenes were improved. Also import­ant is the main­ten­ance of tone. A thrill­er needs some para­noia, char­ac­ter flaws, viol­ence, and style. At the moment, Flashback is in third draft. My girl­friend is cur­rently read­ing it and the signs are reas­on­able for a third draft: (1) As someone who is not par­tic­u­larly keen on thrillers or sci­ence fic­tion, I’m glad that she read can it without for­cing her­self; (2) Thus far, it is ‘grip­ping’; (3) She reports that it is the first time she’s read some­thing of mine that doesn’t con­stantly remind her that I have writ­ten it — a some­what cryptic remark that I’ll be inter­ested to drill into dur­ing the post-read­ing inter­rog­a­tion; (4) Some scenes are a bit odd — no doubt these are the scenes that are close to my heart, and prob­ably shouldn’t be in the story but for some attach­ment I have to them; I’ll have to be very care­ful with these; usu­ally, they need to be ejec­ted, but occa­sion­ally they elev­ate the work bey­ond the run-of-the-mill works of the same genre.

I feel bet­ter now. I’ve been neg­lect­ing this blog lately, but this is the kind of entry I cre­ated the blog to host. So Proper Job on agents’ desks by Christmas; Flashback early next year. Watch — as they say — this space.

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

9 thoughts on “A Writer’s Life”

  1. Yes you have been neg­lect­ing this blog lately, and I for one am happy you have returned to your theme.

    I don’t think I’ve left a com­ment here before, but I have been fol­low­ing your blog for some time. Do con­tin­ue!


  2. It’s a tense moment, get­ting that first girlfriend/wife read through. Rachel insists on read­ing my manu­scripts in bed, with me very uncom­fort­ably next to her. You can ima­gine some of the ten­sions this sets off! Worst is when she looks at me dis­ap­prov­ingly over the manu­script and when chal­lenged, says, ‘Nothing.’ Or when she reaches for a pen­cil and scribbles manically on the script. Usually we don’t talk about the thing until it the read­ing is done.

  3. Yes, the same pro­ced­ure is fol­lowed by Britta and I. Bizarrely, she seems to pre-empt my stress by snap­ping at me if I ask some­thing inno­cent like ‘How’s it going?’ — of course, I could be ask­ing about life in gen­er­al. (But I’m not.) Another prob­lem is that this book is quite long (120,000) and she still hasn’t fin­ished!

  4. Hi, I’m enjoy­ing these nov­el-related posts. I’m also work­ing on a nov­el which is approach­ing the edit­ing stage.

  5. I have only just joined here Ian, but my main site is still very much active(www.tarahanks.org). Thanks for put­ting a link to it on your page.

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