Sick of the Studio
Summary: What does a Metallica concert I attended ten years ago have to do with writing a novel? More than I thought, but then again, perhaps I'm getting sentimental in my old age.
Something a little different from my last couple of posts, but something that’s been on my mind since June.
In 2007, heavy metal band, Metallica, announced a tour of Europe to escape the tedium of recording an another studio album. Living in the UK at the time, I went along with my brother Nic, and saw the show in Wembley Stadium. I’ve been a fan of theirs since the release of the Black Album, but that was the first time I’d seen them live and wow, what a show! That concert was ten years ago and one month ago.
I’ve been writing, and rewriting my novel, Weaver of Dreams, on and off since 2002. So I completely understand the tedium, frustration and pain associated with a creative project into which you pour so much time and energy.
There are times when I wanted to draw a line and say, ‘right, that’s enough, I’ll publish it as it stands’. There are even times when I wanted to quit altogether. I’ve got other, more recent (and less complex) novels I want to finish. I have a dozen more ideas I want to develop…all on hold.
Weaver of Dreams as a project pre-dates many of the major milestones of my adult life. When I completed my first draft, back in late 2004 I took the conventional route of seeking out an agent the following year. It was a disappointing experience to say the least. The agent at first agreed to represent me but then for reasons I didn’t fully understand at the time, decided to terminate our relationship after about 9 months.
This left the manuscript in limbo for several years. I didn’t want to approach another agent and couldn’t be bothered wasting my time mailing the manuscript to publisher slush piles. In the meantime, my career as a technical writer took off, my wife and I relocated to the UK for three years and I tried my hand in other genres. I didn’t touch Weaver of Dreams until 2010 when we returned to Australia and I decided (somewhat impromptu) that it would make a good Christmas present for a family member.
That edit exposed some fundamental flaws made all the more raw by fresh eyes. I’ve always felt that the first version (completed in 2004) was rushed. Perhaps that feeling stems from self-doubt or more likely the self-criticism and wisdom that comes with age. In truth, I believe that I lacked the skill and experience to tell the story as I think it deserves to be told.
This was further reinforced with the comments I received from people who read the 2010 version: they want more story not less. That flies in the face of industry expectations and its obsession with appropriate word counts for appropriate audience. The agent told me the book had be less than 80,000 words (a cut of 59,000 words from my 2004 draft) to make the grade in the young adult market (remember Harry Potter was still new then and that market was everything to the publishing industry). In epic fantasy, 80 thousand words is not a novel – it’s act one.
The 2010 edit made me realise that I had to rewrite the book properly and wouldn’t be happy with it until I did. However, it took me another five years to actually start the rewrite. I didn’t write much from 2011 to 2013 (birth of two kids, bought our first house, stressful day job etc) and when I started writing fiction again in 2013 it was to explore different different genres in two new projects. It was also the beginning of my two years with Linux, which meant I largely abandoned Scrivener, where Weaver of Dreams resided. The net effect was I wasted quite a bit of time fiddling with new ways of writing instead of actually writing.
The difficulty I faced in this latest rewrite is to preserve enough of the spark that inspired me to tell Lillian’s story in the first place. It’s true that a lot has changed, but quite a bit has remained and pulling the two together has been challenging not least because the introduction of a new central character and subplots compromised the original timeline quite badly (thanks to Aeon Timeline, I eventually fixed the problem).
In many respects it might have been quicker to start again with a metaphorical clean sheet of paper. Yet, that would have been a disservice to the original story and my younger self. I’m a different person sure, but that in no-way invalidates who I was and what I wrote.
Accepting this means that I don’t feel guilty about being sick of my studio or the time I’ve spent within it. Like Metallica, I could take a month or two off and do something else–that’s a perfectly valid way of dealing with fatigue. But I’m a stubborn bastard and I see the end is near.
I want to finish the work; I need to finish the work and I must do so properly.
I still remember feeling disappointed and frustrated when the agent asked me to cut a third of the novel to appeal to a market I didn’t even care about. That was not the story I had written or even wanted to tell. There was no editorial merit in that demand; my story needed more, not less.
There will be other stories set in the world of Weaver of Dreams and this rewrite lays the necessary foundation. I’m not promising a direct sequel until I’ve written this ending but there are other places and characters whose stories I now feel compelled to tell.
But first, Lillian’s story needs its ending and I’m now in the final weeks of drafting. When I write the ‘The End’ it will not be because I’ve reached a certain word count or checked off the list of things that appeal to a certain market demographic. I’ll write ‘The End’ when the story I want to tell is told.