The Final Draft?
I knew, every time I revised, redrafted, rewrote or edited my novel, that it wasn’t quite working. I read chapters on re-structuring, books on self-editing, consulted colleague writers and friends, but I could never quite bottom out what was wrong. Rejection letters from agents and small publishers were no surprise.
I loved the story, though, and I wasn’t prepared to give up on it. It tells of the impossible dilemmas experienced by an old man when he can no longer care for his wife because of her dementia, and of the sad events in her Care Home. Other family members and caring professionals are deeply affected by what happens.
Writing can be an expensive activity, especially if you’re not earning much from it, but I decided as a final vote of confidence in my novel to pay for a critical appraisal. They don’t come cheap. The critique was both challenging and encouraging, and somehow opened unknown curtains in my mind, casting clear light on the craft of novel-writing.
I gave myself four months to work with its advice. Although in theory I’m lucky enough to have time and opportunity to write, in practice I’m busy with lots of community activities, so a couple of times I took myself off to find solitude for some uninterrupted work. On the second of these I took only a book to read and my walking boots. Basically, for four days it was me and my novel and the rainy autumn air. No obligations, no TV, no phone, no internet, no people.
I achieved immense focus, and discovered some useful things about myself too. At home, if I need a break from writing, I turn to some of the things on my ‘to do’ list. Somewhere within me a decision has been made that I’ve done enough writing for that day. But now, with no ‘to do’ list, or anything else to distract me, I was having a break and then getting back to writing.
There were profound consequences of this – more even that just achieving a lot more in a day. There was space, immense and free, where I – my mind, spirit,intention, focus – could creatively solve the problems of the novel. Insights, ideas, words, images broke out of the inner fog, and the story began to live. Now, back home, I’m trying to recreate some of those conditions within the busy-ness of everyday life.