It’s all about ego, isn’t it?
And trust me, I do have one.
Novelists, by their very definition, spend a lot of time on one project, one storyline, one cast of characters at a time. Writing a novel is a slow and drawn-out process. It’s an intense experience, and, if you’re anything like me, it’s difficult to even think about anything else, let alone achieve anything, while you’re working on the latest novel.
Of course, a lot of novelists believe that they know what’s best for the novel, their characters and the story arc; it is, I suppose inevitable.
And yet... And yet...
And this is the bit that’s worth reading:
The most successful novelists I know are also the least egotistical and the most flexible. As with other things I’ve talked about, like getting an education, reading a lot, writing a lot, being diligent, you should, as much as possible, emulate what you know works; that’s what I try to do.
I’m in the fortunate position of knowing a number of successful authors, from Ian Rankin, whom I sat in an office with when I was fresh out of university, to the husband, and I’ve met lots of others. It’s not always easy to emulate their working practices, but they do all have certain traits in common.
They do not believe that they are right about everything all of the time.
They are as immersed in their work as anyone could possibly be, but when the editor takes over, they bend to the will of others. They make changes, they cut characters, and even entire plot lines. They beef up sub-plots, they shift emphasis, and rearrange scenes. The writer is always, I hope, the best person to produce a novel, but it is not up to him or her to know the minds of the readers. He cannot hope to have his finger on the pulse when it comes to anticipating what an audience will read, or why.
I am working on getting my first book ready to show to some publishers, so I have been given notes by my lovely agent and by a wonderful novelist whose work I admire enormously. They both said roughly the same things, and (for what it’s worth) they both said what I anticipated they might say.
I coped with making the changes by reminding myself of this: I wrote the first version for myself, which was great, but now I have the privilege of writing the second for an audience.
It’s all about attitude, and... you know what? I’m having a blast with this new version, and I honestly believe I’m going to end up with a better book. How cool is that?