Dear reader –
Have you ever tried typing with your elbows? This is what happens when writers “finish” something and put it out for criticism by specially nominated “readers” who are typically very busy people, caught up in the whirl of daily life: earning, spending, loving, hating, all that stuff. These readers may be writers themselves trying to keep their minds on what they’re working on. Others may be struggling to keep their heads above water and if the work in question is fiction, don’t have time for make believe, or if it’s not, don’t have time for another world, however real it may be.
So a writer who has put a work out into this strange half-lit limbo world – sometimes called “beta” but which might just as appropriately be termed “waita” – waiting for the word, starts at the fingernails, and in a little while, is down to the wrists and then, nibble by nibble, pacing the floor or the yard or the cosmos, arrives at the elbows. Even the most confident writer occasionally gets a feeling for this, banging away at the keyboard, splashing splodges of letters and painfully, carefully removing the unwanted ones, while she or he waits and waits and waits…
As you are certainly by now aware, that is the place I am living in. This post is metaphorically hammered out using my elbows as I await the judgment of two readers on my latest epic, Kaos.
The reason the opinion of good readers matters, to any writer, is that however hard a writer tries, it is impossible to get “outside” one’s work enough to have a totally objective view of it. There are ways to approach objectivity, including if necessary simply putting a work away for a lengthy period and coming back at it “cold”, but none I know of really does the job. The trouble is, the writer knows what comes next, and knowing that sucks tension away.
This is to the writer’s advantage. What seems dull after forty or fifty runs-through simply can’t be as dull on first reading. But there are other problems with familiarity that are not so kind and that repeated readings may not pick up, from ill-constructed sentences with clauses rubbing each other the wrong way, to paragraphs whose sentences similarly need reordering, to blatant nonsense, and beyond: none of this may be present in a manuscript, yet it can nonetheless be boring as.
Kaos is not quite finished in the “tweaking” sense, but is near. It’s taken me a while to write – the first instalment of this blog talks about it, and it wasn’t new then – and its title is appropriate for how my life seems to run.
But I am not sure about it, not sure if this book is any good at all, if it is worth tweaking. Normally I am quite excited when I finish a book, and think it is much better than it turns out to be in the eyes of other beholders. This time – I don’t know. Certainly I get tingles in many places, and there are times when I see some bit of description or action and sit back gobsmacked – “I wrote that! Really! Wow!” But there are other times when I think, “I am too much ‘inside’ of this book to judge it at all as a whole.” It doesn’t mean I think it is necessarily bad but that I just don’t know. The advice I give to other writers, to have a reader on the shoulder, is all too apposite for me. But while I’ve tried to do this, and know that at least every sentence really does make sense, and that the book has a beginning, a middle and an end and moreover, that all relate to each other – whether it’s a bore or not eludes me, so far.
I do think that in a few spots it gets bogged down, and if my readers approve of it, in successive reads I’ll smooth these over so readers can avoid this swamp, but these are not vital and can be fixed, I think, with a bit of glue and tissue paper – or bog roll.
Kaos follows the mantra I’ve kept at since I first started out as a novelist: “a serious purpose in a frivolous genre”. Of course I would like every single person on the planet to read my books, but if that can’t be so – and very, very grudgingly, under extreme pressure, I may admit it – then it would be great if thriller lovers the world over tore through my pages, and that many of them got something out of them beyond use as emergency loo paper: fun, a “good reading experience”, and something more, some insight or other that they didn’t have about life, the universe and ablosutely everything in it.
Compared to The Russian Idea, my previous book in writing terms, I have peeled back the philosophy, if it can be called that. But I think about every writer’s nightmare and envy, Dan Brown, whose new book, Inferno, was already satirised before it hit the shops. He could be said to have a serious purpose in a frivolous genre too, and his books sell and sell and sell.
It is very easy to laugh at Dan Brown, so people do, and that includes me. Michael Deacon of the Telegraph did a pre-release send-up of him that is a scream. But some of that laughter, when it comes from writers or would be writers, is based on envy. Well, I’m not envious of his success – whether he deserves it or not, he’s got it. But I wouldn’t mind also…even if I, also, don’t deserve it. Life is just inherently unfair. And it may be that sometimes people who don’t deserve something good that they get for one reason, do deserve something good for some other reason. Dan Brown for example may be a very nice chap who has always been a nice chap, and who has given away lots of money even when he didn’t have much, who helped his neighbours when they were skint and who has always had an eye out for cats up trees and little old ladies who can’t see properly trying to navigate their ways across busy roads.
For just such a person there was a 1950s American television programme, The Millionaire*, about a philanthropist who picked out the otherwise invisible worthies and gave them a million dollars each. “My name is Michael Anthony and I’m here to give you a million dollars” his man would say to the disbelieving beneficiary. J Beresford Tipton, the philanthropist, is sadly not a real person. I would like to emulate him nonetheless, and if the enabling gains are undeserved, well, what goes around etc.
Meanwhile I am waiting for my test audience to come back to me, to say yea or nay. Do I detect “Nay”? Maybe…but it’s a good story, so if they don’t like it, I can have another slash at making it better. If I have to do it, I can just drop it for now, go on to something new, and go back to it later, when I have got some “distance”.
Those of you with a cruel turn of mind may wonder why I have stopped at my elbows. Why not typing with one’s shoulders? Ultimately,with the nose, and when that’s not available, the earlobe? The totally cruel may ask if I wrote Kaos with another part of my anatomy.
I’m not telling.
Thanks for reading.
* See Wiki for details.