So last week, I had one particularly busy day, spent in big, impressive glass buildings in London. Firstly, I was giving a talk on my experience of business as a writer, and what entrepreneurials skills were required at a university, and then I was going on to have a (wine-fuelled) meeting with my editor. Both were lovely, and both seemed to have a theme: collaboration.
Now, I know I don’t just bleed magical words from my fingertips – there’s a reason it’s called ‘craft’. You draft and re-draft and fix things and change stuff. And I hurtled into this new novel headfirst, I was eager to get on with it, and though I had a lot of doubts and problems throughout the process, I just decided to steamroller over them to get the book done. Which was why, when my lovely editor sent over her notes, despite her positive comments about all the things she loved, I felt like I’d failed her, myself, my publisher and the whole world, in general.
I then had to get up the next day and talk to a group of artists about how I have apparently ‘made it’. Now, if there’s one thing I don’t believe in, it’s ‘made it’. I used to think ‘made it’ was the publishing deal, then it became the bestseller – we move the goalposts. All I’m able to talk about is the fact that I worked (and wrote) my arse off for about five years, and now I’ve been lucky enough for that to pay off.
The theme that kept emerging was collaboration – working with others to create, or interpreting and reinterpreting other’s creativity. Making art can be lonely, it’s a compromise for the lifestyle (one of the other ‘c’s I should have included in the title) and it got me thinking about what ‘editing’ really was. I was collaborating with my editor. The original ideas were mine, but she was the problem solver, the route finder, the map reader. And that collaboration deserves a mention.
Writers often mention fighting their editors on decisions, and I can understand why. It’s hard to kill your darlings, it’s hard to unpick threads of storyline, to remove chunks of text that are pretty but pointless. Or even worse, to lose something that is well written and has a point, but the market isn’t interested.
I have to say this – my editor has always been right. It’s like she’s magic or something. Almost everything she highlights is something I wobbled on during the creative process. Sometimes it’s stuff you realise, sometimes it’s stuff you stopped yourself from realising, or sometimes you just think ‘yeah, that makes a better story’.
I often give the advice to writers not to talk about what they’re doing, for fear of making the story stale, or stopping themselves from writing it. You have to discover your story as you write, to a certain extent, that’s what the fun part of writing is! If it’s dogmatic before it’s hit the page, then it’s going to sound like dead verbage, like your characters are bad actors standing in for the ones you imagined.
However, talking to the students about collaboration, and outlining my excitement and worries for the next book in the series to my editor, I can see why people talk about their stories. Collaboration is shared excitement, it’s opening up to perspectives and allowing for change. Often, when you’ve got a story, that can be a scary thing, but there’s definitely a place for it in writing. In my world, that’s in the editing space, for you, it might be at the beginning. Your novel might be like having a crush on a world you’ve invented; you can’t help but talk about it!
So as I move forward into editing mode (and I take great joy in the number of authors who wring their hands and hate this part of the process as much as I do) I’m going to say a big THANK YOU, to those who collaborate, who share ideas and thoughts and process, who give feedback and answer questions. That’s what keeps stories alive.