Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reality Check

I had a very kind email from a friend a few days ago giving me some much needed encouragement as I wait for my report to come back. It made me realise I've been dwelling a lot on the negative - an easy thing to do when you're waiting for something seemingly taking an eternity to arrive (four weeks, three days and ticking). As I typed a reply I realised that I've forgotten all the positive things friends said in their reviews of the book, and completely blown out of proportion some of the criticism I received. It's partly because I've never been in this situation before, and I'm still learning how to cope with the various emotions and thoughts you experience while waiting for someone to review a work you've poured so much time and effort into. It's also partly because at heart I'm an extreme worry-wart.

So - no more wallowing and negativity (he says, pumping his fist in the air). It's time to get things in perspective and stop worrying, and see how the cards fall.

Actually, I think even before my friend's email I had begun seeing things a bit more positively. Yesterday afternoon while the boys were napping I fired up my ancient laptop (it's so old I'm suprised it doesn't have a handle to wind) and took a look at my story folder. If you ever want an example of bad file-management this is it. There are folders within folders within folders, draft attempts, revisions, full printable versions, extracts etc etc - all very badly labelled. The very earliest is dated 30 Dec 2001, the night when I first sat down at the computer and started what would later become the Ghost of Ping-Ling. It took me about half an hour to find it amongst all the other stuff. In the process I also found a complete manuscript labelled 'Dillen Applebee and the Green Gem', from July 2003. So I printed it out and started reading.

Peter Jackson made an interesting comment on the 'making of' section of the LOR DVD's. He said one of his greatest wishes is to have his memory 'erased', so he can go and see his own movies as a detached observer, partly for enjoyment and partly so he can make changes he wouldn't otherwise be able to see. I think anyone who has spent a long time creating something can relate to this wish. Its too easy to get so close to a work that you can't see things that would otherwise be glaring. That's why you give it to others who have a distance from the work.

But alas, it's not possible to have your memory erased (at least I don't think it is - perhaps the CIA are onto it). The next best thing is time. The usual recommendations for an author are that you write a draft and leave it for a minimum of one month before reading it. That way when you do read you'll have built up a sense of distance that will better allow you to see your work objectively. I did this with Ghost, and it really does work. Apparently Jane Austen used to leave her books for a year before reading them and sending them to the publisher - that's a discipline I don't think I could ever have.

So, when it came to reading 'The Green Gem' draft I had a distance of about six years, which is considerable, and is probably about the closest you can come to having your memory of a book 'erased'. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The book at that stage was very, very raw. Characters come and go and change personality as I tinker with them. Dillen does very little other than tag along as an observer to Hallegat, who is the main star of the action. Humour is sometimes grating and forced.

But despite this, I found it surprisingly well written and easy to read, even the bits that were obviously first-pass drafts. I had expected it to read like bad fan-fiction, but it was nothing like that at all.

It was the first three chapters of this draft that I sent to the Assessor in mid 2004. My memory of her feedback was vague, so I also dragged out and dusted off her comments. What she had to say was extremely helpful. She zeroed in on the main plot flaws very quickly, and gave excellent suggestions for how to remedy them. But she also left me with a sense that there was promise in what she had read, and I needed to keep working at it.

I did - although I wasn't expecting at the time it would take me six years before I sent her draft '2'. I'm very interested to see if she even remembers reading it the first time - it's almost unrecognisable apart from a few names.

Anyway, the long and the short of this slightly rambly post is that I found the whole exercise of reading the comments and the early draft positive and encouraging - and along with Bel's email it helped me to start looking at things with a bit more hope and a bit less gloomy imagination.

Let the waiting continue! (but hopefully not much longer...)

1 comment:

  1. Well done on your writing accomplishments