Thursday, 26 February 2009

After the Fire

Odalisque with a Slave, or, The Writer Having Finished her Manuscript Corrections Falls into a Coma
by Ingres (1780-1867)

Heart of Flame (now standing at 91,000 words) is done, wrapped up and put to bed - with strict instructions not to get up again, not even for a drink or a wee.

Thank goodness.

Okay, so on Valentines day I was a guest at a wedding and someone asked me what the hardest part of the wrting process was. Bolstered by alcohol I enthused "Oh ... None of it really ... I enjoy all of it." Oh how I lied! Or possibly I'd just forgotten.

I find the manuscript correction really hard and wearing. I'm not talking about proof corrections, when the galleys come back from the publisher: at least by that late stage there's usually been a 5-month gap in which I haven't read the book and it feels fresh. Plus the publisher has accepted it so at least you know that the work isn't a complete bag of shite. No, I don't enjoy doing proofs but I don't mind it.

I'm talking about the bit where you've written the novel and then you have to go back through and read it, every word and every punctuation mark, looking for logic problems, plot holes, typos, repeated words in a paragraph and repeated phrases from chapter to chapter. Did she lift her hands over her head when they were tied behind her back (Ouch!)? Did he have to be carrying rather more luggage in his pockets than the average Sherpa can manage to lift? Did she "squeal like a pig" every time she had sex? (Okay, I promise I didn't use that simile even once!) Its or It's? Peon or Paeon or Paean? (Yes, they all mean different things and spellchecker won't tell you if you've used the right one) Then you do it again. And again. Without a break. And all the time you're wondering whether you haven't just wasted 7 months of your life because you've no idea whether it's publishable anyway.

I read Heart of Flame through three times after finishing, and actually reached a point where all the text became so familiar that it achieved a sort of timeless singularity where all the dialogue was going on simultaneously in my head and I could no longer tell whether there was any logical progression from one part of the story to the next.

That's the point at which to stop. Just before you get to the stage where in an attempt to preserve your sanity you decide you no longer give a crap.

But it's lovely when it's over ... and you can start thinking about doing some proper writing again.


Nikki Magennis said...

Yay! Well done, missus! And yes, I totally agree re ms corrections. If that's what it's called. I HATE rereading over and over.
In an ideal world, I'd leave the ms for about a year before I reread it, and then make corrections. In fact, maybe two years.

Craig Sorensen said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Janine!

I'm not at the point where I'm dealing with galleys, just dealing with the books in my own space, but I can so relate to this.

It's funny you mention leaving a book for two years to age, Nikki. The book I'm working on now was finished in early '07. It was a raw idea I wrote "real time." I didn't have an outline, just started with an idea.

When I came back to it at the end of last year, I realized why I like working with an outline!

It's lots and lots of work, but I must confess, it's work of the very best sort.

Erobintica said...

I don't seem to remember that alternate title for the painting from my college art history class. ;-)

Having yet to seriously work on anything book-length (though I do have a couple of starts) - I don't know what it's like to go over an entire long manuscript - but seeing as how I suffer tremendously over revising, checking and double checking my stories - I don't imagine it will be fun.

Congratulations! I loved this - not even for a drink or a wee.

Neve Black said...

You're funny! I love the image above and the Janine caption below. :-)


I don't think I've met one writer, thus far that doesn't have edit OCD. As insane as it seems, I think it's really, quite I dare say, "normal?"

Thanks for sharing! Now go do something fun to celebrate!

Janine Ashbless said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janine Ashbless said...

Oh guys, I love the blogoverse. As I said to Erobintica the other day - can you imagine what it was like to be a writer before it was so easy to connect to other writers? Nowadays I know I'm normal, and other people are going through the same stuff, and have been told "well done." So I feel great. And I can't wait to get stuck into more writing, yay!

Justine Elyot said...

Wow, 91K! That is a lot of reading and checking. Hope your eyes are holding up, Janine, all the better to feast on that lovely painting.