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I didn't sign up for this!
July 17, 2019
I’m currently working on reviving four crime novels I wrote back in the 1990s, for republication. Most of the time this is a delightful experience – I really get into them again. Every now and then, however, it can be thoroughly dispiriting.
Rereading them, it’s clear that one of the four books is weaker than the others. Particular passages shout ‘not good enough!’ at me. In some, I give the reader too much information – the great crime writers give nothing away they don’t have to. In others, characters behave as they do to fit the plot. ‘She wouldn’t do that!’ I yell at the text.
At first I try and rework these sections. This can be exciting. Sometimes a great new idea crops up. However I then have to ask if that will stymie the story later on, or if it really is a promising new development. Sometimes even a bright, new idea has to be ditched because to incorporate it would mean too many changes further down the line.
The alternative to rewriting is simply removing – taking the errant section out altogether. This can hurt if there’s some good writing in there, but it often turns out to be for the best. I’m left with the slightly depressing (but in its own way liberating) awareness that a chunk of my prized text was actually totally unnecessary. However, worse is the sinking realization that another part of the story depends crucially on the now-removed section. Yet it can’t just go back as it was. It just wasn’t good enough.
So it has to be time for deeper, longer rewriting. On bad days, that can be a real struggle.
On some days all the negatives above seem to happen, and I’m left with poor stuff I can’t get rid of and having to ditch new ideas because they threaten the existing story. I try stuff and it doesn’t work. I end up feeling I’ve spent a whole day of my life going at best round and round in circles, at worst backwards. I have certainly added nothing to the world in that time, just taken from it.
Ah, well, tomorrow is another day. Often, I find, it can be a rather good, creative day. It’s amazing what a night’s sleep will do to revitalize a sagging storyline. Time to click away from the ailing text and do something completely different – like writing a blog.