Now supposing you won an international writing competition and your success was reported in a number of publications, including the Melbourne Age. Supposing, as a result you had a call from a publisher, asking about your novel. And supposing you sent six chapters and a synopsis to the publisher, and they really liked your work and wanted to see more.
Yes, wonderful, I’m sure you’ll agree: a recipe for ecstasy.
But supposing your novel is currently pulled apart with track changes and comment boxes throughout. And you tell the publisher, look I’ve only re-written the first twenty-two chapters, but give me a couple of months and I’ll show you all I’ve got.
And they agree.
Then you might have to do a great deal of work to do.
But what if you lied?
Not a real lie because you really have re-written the first twenty-two chapters – barring all but one teeny- weeny scene in chapter twenty-one which you have been putting off …
And supposing you kept putting it off, pulling the individual chapters into one document, making decisions, reading and re-reading, everything neat and tidy, until there is nothing left to do but re-write that one tiny scene in chapter twenty-one?
And now it is time to write it and you feel sick.
Yes, that’s right: sick.
New stuff always makes you icky. There is the excitement, the challenge of re-working old words to make the same-but-a-better story. There is doubt and fear of failure, your long time companions. And all the while you are wondering, hoping, praying that you will be able to give life to this vague sense of meaning that has formed in your mind.
So, you start because, let’s face it, you have to.
And at first, you feel like newly washed hair all mussy and twisted. Then slowly creation’s conditioner seeps into the fibres. You put a comb to the knots and begin to tease out the words. Very gently, lest you change too much, you work back and forth, in and out of the document. Does this move the character forward? Is he meant to be failing the character tests in this chapter? Or passing them? Who is this character, anyway? Maybe I should delete him? Cut the scene completely? Write a different novel?
Oh no, you think. Where am I going?
Of course, at this point when you are in deep crisis, there is always family: a school meeting, an art exhibition, a sick kid, or a husband you have to talk to.
But … you can’t you possibly stop writing at this stage.
Except, you have to.
And quite frankly, it’s what you need, because while you are away from your computer, the problem resolves itself (normally in the middle of the night, or a desk shift at the library). And you write the idea down in your notebook, or send an email to yourself.
And enjoy a brief interlude of peace.
Meanwhile, a dear friend is reading her way through the other twenty-two chapters of your manuscript, patiently editing and making suggestions. And she reaches chapter twelve and sees a need for some structural changes.
Oh God, you think. This is only chapter twelve. You quickly extrapolate this particular change against all other possible changes you might have to make, and realise that one small scene in chapter twenty-one is the least of you worries.
You are sunk.
Horror churns. You lose sleep. You never really liked that friend anyway. Who does she think she is?
She is right, damn it! The changes must be made – and right away, not a moment to spare. If you leave them they will burn a hole in your manuscript.
So, you make the changes – and all the other alterations your dear friend suggests, and the story is better for it. So, you delete the hate mail you have so carefully drafted.
Then, with gut wrenching, you re-visit chapter twenty-one.
The scene is before you, a poorly patched garment. You decide to be brave. Make sweeping changes. You work in a fever, nerves like violin strings. The whole document altered, chapter by chapter, like dominoes, falling, falling, falling …
But it’s not a waste.
The scene is strong and resonant, full of symbols and hidden meaning.
My God, you’re a genius. Why did you put this off for so long? All that talent, finally flowering. A Pulitzer Prize in the making.
And you think, perhaps you will sleep tonight – maybe all the way through to six o’ clock in the morning.