Ah, ’tis true


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If I could go back in time to 1999 and meet myself on the day I star­ted writ­ing Déjà Vu, I’d say, “Ha! You fool.” Then I would yip off about England win­ning the ashes and tell my former self to get gambling.

Then I would say: “But enough about fin­an­cial reward. See that book you’re writ­ing? Yes, the one that’s cur­rently ten words plus three hun­dred pages of white space. Before it’s pub­lished, you’ll end up rewrit­ing it about ten times. Seriously. Think about it. Ten. Times. That’s over half a mil­lion words. Still feel all artist­ic and cre­at­ive? Sap!”

My young­er self would reply, “But I’m writ­ing it really care­fully! This’ll be just like English les­sons in school — straight As, easy peasy. I’ll prob­ably have a lit­er­ary agent before the Millennium Bug hits.”

I will then slap my young­er self upside the head. “Belt up and get ready for a high-speed real­ity impact. Oh, and get a hair­cut.”

Ever read that poem, When I was one and twenty? Here I am, in the year 2006 (almost 2007), repoint­ing the brick­work on the latest tower­ing work of geni­us begat from Hocking’s brain. It was 120,000 words when I fin­ished the first draft.

“Excellent,” I said in the mir­ror as the draft was print­ing. “Thank good­ness I’m so much more mature as a writer; lucky me that my prose now bor­ders on poetry and my char­ac­ters are as mem­or­able as Dickens’s. I’ll hardly have to rewrite it all! I’d bet­ter prac­tice my rejec­tion speech for the agents when they start to call.”

Buckle up, Hocking.

This morn­ing, three quar­ters of the way through the draft, I read the fol­low­ing sen­tence:

Like a fever, her inde­cision broke.

Like a fever? Like a fever? In which respect? Did it involve drib­bling? Hot milk and honey? A day spent listen­ing to Radio Four?

Never mind the clichés and the claptrap that tells the read­er exactly what he or she should be think­ing. Let me find an example…oh dear, this one appeared with­in two clicks:

Kirby switched his reins left and right of the horse’s nape, Western style. Horse sweat foamed at his knees.

Horse sweat foamed at his knees? That’s up there with Hemingway. It’s sharp-as-a-tack import­ant to make that clear, in case the read­er thinks that it’s camel sweat and gets all con­fused.

Of course, there are some bits that are less shit than oth­ers. Here’s one that’s per­haps only one step or two from its final shape:

Hrafn held the torch­light on Shaw. He could have both men arres­ted and let oth­ers unpick the threads of their involve­ment. But the sev­en let­ters had not faded from his con­cern. S, T, E, N, D, E, C. The CVR bus: sab­ot­aged. The land­ing gear: undeployed. He let his mind walk the curves of a 737–800, feel the riv­ets, the flu­id forces of wind, the cracks of over­speed, and the insist­ence of a ques­tion for its answer.

Well, to be ser­i­ous for a moment, I’m not overly con­cerned for the manu­script. As I maraud its pages, my scorched earth policy on crappy sen­tences should do the trick, even­tu­ally. But it’s enlight­en­ing to note how happy I was with the manu­script after that first draft. Certain that I had learned so much from writ­ing Déjà Vu (and anoth­er nov­el in between, which is cur­rently being read by friends). I have learned a great deal…but you don’t get to write a good book in one sit­ting.

Writing is rewrit­ing. And so to work!

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

3 thoughts on “Ah, ’tis true”

  1. Somebody quoted some­body fam­ous, who said: “You don’t need to be a good writer. Just a good edit­or.”

    And that’s the truth. Only read­ing that you edited Deja Vu from 120,000 down to 75,000 gave me the con­fid­ence to do the same to Adventure Eddy and by golly, was it a bet­ter book by the end of it.

    I’ve just reread a lot of my Nanowrimo effort — and there are sec­tions of great dia­logue and action… but they’re thin between dol­lops of unmit­ig­ated shit.

    But writ­ing is like sculpt­ing, I guess. Except we cre­ate our big, square block of stone and only then do we start chip­ping out the sculp­ture inside.

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks for your com­ment, Rolski. Editing is where it’s at. DV is def­in­itely a svelte whip­pet com­pared to the ori­gin­al, and I hope to do the same to Flashback. Best of luck with your own stuff!

  3. I love that ana­logy. Writing is like cre­at­ing a huge block of stone and rewrit­ing and edit­ing is chip­ping away at that stone until a book emerges. So true.

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