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on releasing it into the wild

Avoiding the Piece of Cake today because it’s so very nearly finished that I’m starting to get a little afraid of it. I’m really excited about this new book and keen to let it go. I’m also questioning it a lot now that it’s getting too late to change things. That’s bringing up all these issues about when to release my work into the wild.

I tend to hang onto things until the very last minute, until they are teetering on the edge of overworked. It’s a perfectionist tendency which I find necessary, early drafts of everything I write being shite.

At some point you have to let it go, shite or not. I’m finding this a very different process with the second novel because I already have a publisher and I know I will have an editor (and I know much more about what that process will mean). So my publisher emailed me last week politely inquiring when I might have a new manuscript for them. I told them February/March.

I feel like I could work really hard and get the PoC iced in a fortnight, but I’m nervous. I need more time alone with it, in private, even if I just spend all morning moving one sentence back and forth. Some authors let their friends/relatives/peers read their drafts, but I prefer to hang onto my work until the very last minute. That was essential with the first book – you’re competing for publishers’ attention, so you want to polish the hell out of it. With this one I’m trying to cut myself some slack, but find that I can’t drop my perfectionist habits.

This leads to another issue, which is thinking about the book as a finished, published entity. Writing the first book I had the luxury of obscurity (no, I don’t want it back, thanks). In some ways I thought of TDA as unpublishable (it is a love story between two older women after all) and that allowed me to write the book that wanted to be written, rather than the book that I thought I wanted to write.

It’s important to make the work exist properly before you let other opinions crowd in. These opinions and ideas include the imaginary ones that I have running through my head, the inner critical voices. And then there’s thinking about the book as a product. How will I be marketing this? Worrying about how you’re going to talk about your writing, while you’re writing, has advantages and disadvantages. (This follows on from my last post and an email conversation I’ve been having with genevieve tucker)

Bad: it distracts you from telling the story; it can lead to a tendency to become mediocre in an effort to make yourself palatable to imagined tastes.

Good: it’s a form of criticism – a way of “making every word stand trial” as someone famous (I forget who) said; you will have to do it down the track anyway so you should practice while you still have a passion for the book in question.

Confession: while I was writing TDA that inner voice came in the form of fantasy interviews, mostly conducted while swimming laps. This was partly my Ambitious Streak fantasising about its future life as Famous Author, but also a way for my brain to hold ideas up to the light of another person’s POV without the embarrassment of actually letting someone read my drafts. If I can’t explain it or justify it to Imaginary Interviewer, then it probably shouldn’t be there.

But if I can explain it, why am I writing a novel about it?

The fantasy interviews have disappeared this time around. That’s partly because I have more experience with real interviewers, who don’t tend to ask so many tough questions about the nuts and bolts. Editors do. After that it only happens in reviews, and you can’t answer those (unless you know the person who runs the paper they’re in).

It’s all a bit confusing. Maybe in an ideal world i wouldn’t have to do the travelling-salesman bit. But it’s good for the work in some ways, and part of the same skill set. You have to get into character to write fiction (or I do – hence the usual description of my job as “having a benign form of schizophrenia”). Then you have to get into character to market it.

Is the character I’ll be in to flog the PoC the same person who’s been writing it? The same person who’s been touting TDA around the country? Probably not. Different book, different audience – though you’d hope the people who read the first would want to read the second. But what if I alienate them with this one? Gah! Heck! Splutter!

I am trying to push all of these troublesome thoughts out of my head and just finish the damn book as i see fit. But the closer I get to the end of it, the closer I get to the scary (and joyful) moment of release. Which also gets me closer to bipolar mood disorder and divorce. Bonus!

Instead of (okay, as well as) panicking, I’m making a new zine. One thing I love about zines is that people tend to give you feedback on your work because it’s not technically “published.” There’s an understanding that you can still do something else with it – see zine-to-book authors like vanessa berry and tom cho.

The increasing respect for zines by mainstream publishing as the industry decentralises is great, but it also means that the wonderful tentative quality of zines is fading as they act more like publications and less like small experiments.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean I think of zines as practice – just that they belong to a particular critical community. Even with zines I tend to rework until I know it’s ready. I think I usually know when it’s ready. I’m hoping this is something I will get better at with practice. Right now I’m still wondering if the PoC is almost ready, which means it definitely isn’t. The trick is not to go past the point of being completely jack of it. But then you have to hate your work now and then – and I can remember who said that (I have graduated from total insanity, but am looking forward to the pastel shades).

Anyway the upshot of all this is that you can’t read my book yet but you can order a zine by sending trade or five bucks or stamps to PO Box 3085 Alice Springs. No-one ever orders my zines through the mail, so you could be the first.

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