Rewriting, bubbles and termites

Well blog readers, it’s been a while. Probably a lot longer than I anticipated, definitely a lot longer than I would have liked. Turns out caring for a four-year-old and a baby whilst rewriting a manuscript is actually quite time consuming. I am only able to write this now because the rewrite has gone back to my editor and my baby seems quite content to sit in his highchair while I type and intermittently toss him pieces of chopped-up grape*. 

Yes, you read correctly, dear reader: the rewrite of the manuscript that is to be published this year has gone back to my editor. Not only that, but she has read it and rather than call me and tell me the publisher has realised that I am actually ridiculous. She has instead told me she loves it and has sent it on for copy editing. This was a little unexpected because I did the rewriting in a strange sort of isolated bubble with no feedback from anyone at all. I sent it off to her just before Christmas without another soul reading a word, very unusual for me, but my husband and reader in chief was crazy busy with work so I took a punt.

For those unfamiliar with the grand process that is publication, once a manuscript has been accepted by a publisher an editor then writes a structural report. This is perhaps not entirely dissimilar to a structural report one may receive from a builder: a detailed analysis of everything that is right, but mostly wrong, with your dream house. The bits that are falling down, the holes in the overall support structure, the places where termites have began to gnaw in and consequently build their own little ornate castle-type thing which may be pretty to look at but is actually detrimental to your resale value and will need to be destroyed.

The process that follows this is the rewrite, where one takes on board the kind and sensitively-worded feedback offered by ones editor and proceeds to plug the holes, reshape particular characters and get rid of that weird bit coming off the side which is pretending to be a metaphor but is actually an entirely separate, overdeveloped entity that certainly doesn’t have council approval.

This process, for me, was completely different to that which I experienced drafting the original story. The first time round there’s no expectation, no precedent. Sure, you have dreams and ambitions that someone might actually read what you’re writing. But they might not. Sure you might hope that it might, just might, against all odds be (gasp!) published. But probably not, better off trying to win the lottery. There is a kind of freedom in this, a kind of abandonment. You’re just throwing things around to see what happens. It’s actually enjoyable.

Not to say that the rewriting process can’t be enjoyable. But this time, there’s a precedent, an expectation. People are going to read it. And they’re going to expect that it’s better than it was the last time around. And they know what they’re talking about too. They’re professional-type people with offices and meetings and spreadsheets and a work-wardrobe. They don’t work in a kind of cave with this morning’s jam smeared on their cheek. That’s kind of intimidating. 

Yet, there’s still the knowledge, a small sparkly thing in the back of ones mind, that these people believe in you enough to offer you a contract and, like, actual cash money. And goodness knows that’s never happened before. There’s also the fact that the people who are working on it are extremely lovely and sensitive to writers’ fragile egos.

So you pick over the manuscript, bounce ideas off your editor and try to look with fresh eyes at a story that you’ve read countless times. It can also be difficult to get into the headspace required to maintain the voice and atmosphere of the story, the internal picture that was so strong and vivid when you started writing the story, but now has become a little dull from endless revision. The Sky So Heavy is set in a nuclear winter, complete with power cuts and food shortages. Kind of tricky to imagine in December when you’re living by the beach and have spent the morning swimming in the sunshine. My trick was to listen to particular songs over and over while I wrote. (Mainly from Radiohead’s King of Limbs, but more on that later).

So now I wait to hear back from the copy editor and, the bit I am supremely excited about, see the mock-ups of the cover design. And while I am waiting I will keep you updated. Promise.

*Don’t despair, child-safety advocates, the grapes were chopped up and not chokable, also I don’t routinely feed my infant son as if he were a seagull or similar. Not that often… depends how busy I am.