In life, we seldom end up how we begin. Of course there are rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-again stories, but usually life gives us things and we grow richer. Even if it’s only in experience, or feelings of joy or grief, we are forever receiving things from the world around us. And forever losing things. That’s how it works.
In life, as in writing. We start off with one idea and find it changing, growing, evolving – like wild flowers colonising meadows, seeds mingling until a breathtaking hybrid appears. Characters surprise us and head off in unforeseen directions. Plots twist and turn. Conflicts blow in on the wind. Our original message and conclusion are ditched as we dig deeper. And more flowers bloom.
We give our novels as much as we can, investing time, energy, love, joy, grief in them. We put it all down on the page – the characters, the adventures, the conclusions – and feel euphoric when at last we type The End. Only to discover it’s not the end. It’s just another beginning. We have to hone it, mould it, work on it. We invest even more time and energy in it, aspiring to make it better. Just like life, where we strive to be better than we were. With a novel this is called editing. Sometimes that’s like teaching a child good habits. “No. Put that down. It’s an adjective.” Or manners: “Don’t waffle, darling. It’s boring.” Sometimes it drives us mad. Always, it’s a labour of love. And, as in life, sometimes it’s our losses that help us grow. Wrong partner? Leave them. Wrong job? Find another. Weak plot? Strengthen it. Turgid prose? Tighten it. Wrong character? Create a new one. When we decide to jettison whatever is wrong with our life we’re making a conscious effort to try and improve it. Equally, it’s what we take out of our novel that can make it sparkle. Lose the waffle (it is boring), lose the unnecessary adjectives. Lose the unrealistic plot, aimless characters or dull dialogue. Be ruthless.
Jo Wyton writes about editing in Notes from the Slush Pile. She compares it to taking off the rose-tinted glasses you didn’t realise you were wearing and says ‘different versions of your novel clutter your brain’. We must all learn to declutter.
We start off with one thing (an idea), and end up with another (a story) that has grown and changed so much sometimes it bears little resemblance to how it started. This magical process is not easy. Well. You know. Life’s hard, too. But whether you get to The End and realise you now have to start honing, or whether you get to The Real End, remember – the magic never ends.
It’s just another beginning.
And so, it occurs to me, is creating a new venture with friends. Electrik Inc will change, grow, evolve. We know we won’t stay the same. We embrace that. We have great plans, and all of them involve great children’s books. So watch this space.
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