There’s a trick to small children producing great pictures. It isn’t rocket science. All you have to do is take the picture away from the child when it looks gorgeous, because most kids will happily scribble forever on a piece of paper that’s already full, turning the whole thing into the most awful tortured mess.
Artists... the real ones, know when to stop... Think of Picasso’s Dove, for example: simple, elegant, beautiful, understated. The same is true for artists who take a little longer with the paint and work a little harder. Lucian Freud worked, sometimes for hundreds of hours on a portrait, but I always get the feeling that he stopped at exactly the right moment, when the thing was genuinely at its most perfect.
I begin to wonder whether the same applies to writing. I don’t edit much, and that might be because I don’t need to edit much. On the other hand, my work hasn’t been read by a whole lot of people, and few of them really have the credentials to know that I’ve done my best work, that I’ve perfected a piece.
It’s easy to see where and how to edit short fiction, in particular the sort of flash fiction and the extended jokes that I write for this blog. When something is very brief and there’s a punch-line, it’s not difficult to make every word count, not for me at least.
Long form fiction is something else entirely.
Every day that I’m writing a novel, I read back through what has gone before, and for quite a long time, that means reading everything that I have written, every day for a decent number of days. That’s when I make the most changes to the text, early on, when the whole thing is new and I have very little idea where it’s going.
Obviously, it’s impossible to read all of a novel everyday before I continue with it, so, as time goes on, I tend to read less and less. It feels like this is because my confidence has grown, and I know more of the book with greater authority, but what if it’s just complacence.
I’m looking forward to taking the next step. I’m looking forward to finding an agent, who can suggest changes to my ‘finished’ novel, who can give me a fresh perspective. Who knows what might be thrown up by a conversation with someone else who’s in love with my characters and my writing?
I only hope that whoever it is sees what I see, and sparks the little extra in me that can make the work sublime. It can happen, I’m sure of it.