Thursday, May 8, 2014

Five Circles of Hell (+ the edits)

Which bit of the writing process causes the most angst? This bit. This bit right here today.  Which is another way of saying all of it.  Except the bits in [ ... ]

The beginning of the first draft is hell. I write and write and can't let go of the side.

The middle of the first draft is a special kind of hell where I know that the story is hopeless, the characters are flat, the setting is thin, the plot is stupid and there's no way to end it.  The worst thing about this hell is no one believes me and some people (usually married to me) laugh.

The end of the first draft is a new hell.  That's when I see that the story could have worked out because it's got a great shape after all but there's no time to fix it and so I'll just have to embroider this sow's ear and forget the silk I could have been working on if I had a brain.

[I quite like printing out the first draft and dancing around to ELO]

Then comes the second draft and what fresh hell is this?  It's gets bigger and bigger, so unwieldy and paceless - as I cram in notes, half-pages, post-its, markers, cross-references, a lot of blue Bic and highlighter and start to dream about it at night and face the impossibility of wrestling it back into shape again.

[I don't mind turning the big mess into a third draft, because it's grunt work and hard to get wrong.]

But - I usually have some remaining questions so I leave some post-its in there:


Turning the third draft into a fourth draft isn't painful because I'm beyond pain. I'm resigned to the failure and humiliation about rain down on me and, frankly, if it means I never have to write again it's fine with me.

Then I get really disaffected. The fifth draft is the last one before it leaves my hands and at that stage I go in for a lot of cutting. The manuscript  - it's never that bad.  I hate every word of it and could happily carve it down to a haiku without thinking I'd lost anything much.  It's now that I know I have to hand it over. My editors  - Editrix Lestrange at Hodder and Dimples Bischoff at Midnight Ink - are pretty understanding but haikus might stretch them.

[I love putting away all my research materials and drafts and dusting my desk]

Waiting to hear what they think is hell.  But at least it's not writing.

And that's the end of it.  Except for the editing which is sheer hell.

The strange thing is that I love my job and I wouldn't do anything else but be a writer no matter how much you paid me. Go figure.

Addendum! I forgot  - writing this yesterday - that today was going to be a good day.  My new book comes out today. [Don't hate this.]

11 comments:

Meredith Cole said...

Congrats on the new book!!! Like, like!

Susan C Shea said...

Question: How do you keep yourself sitting there, grinding away, when you know it's awful and will never come together? That's when I jump up and find something that needs to be washed. Maybe it's all the awards your sub-conscious knows you're going to win if you battle through it?!

Catriona McPherson said...

Susan - If I knew that I would run seminars on it and never have to do it for real again!

Stacy Allen said...

I just plus-one'd this on Google+ because it is so good. As I stated on Google: "Catriona tells it like it is. This is the unglamorous, no-make up, hungry, tired and desperate side of being an author. I love you, Catriona!"
I was in line edits, then I am find myself with a new editor who is sending me yet another run-through of edits. I have a book launch on August 18, and I still am not in Galley stage. I feel your pain. I keep moving forward, but honestly cannot wait til Expedition Indigo is out in the world and I can return to the second in the series. This road to publication is a bumpy damn ride.

Robin Spano said...

LOL all the way through. Especially fitting is that your "good day" is "the day she died."

Lori Rader-Day said...

Hilarious and spot on. And happy book release day!

Diane Vallere said...

I'm still marveling at how perfectly you lined up the edges of your Post-Its. It shows that what you claim to be a mess is really a work of art.

Susan C Shea said...

Yes, Diane Vallere, I was a little suspicious of the non-panicky way that manuscript looked. My own marked up one gave off an unsightly air of chaos!

Paul D. Marks said...

Congratulations on the new book, Catriona. And your line "
The strange thing is that I love my job and I wouldn't do anything else but be a writer no matter how much you paid me. Go figure," reminds of something Woody Allen says in "Annie Hall":

"...This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs."

I guess we need the eggs.

Historical Reminiscing with Marilyn said...

You have no idea how much better this makes me feel. I am exactly in that place. Yours and the Ian Rankin video are outstanding on this.
Marilyn Watson

Art Taylor said...

Congrats on the new book! And beautiful cover, as I know you've heard from me and others.... :-)