That York business

Published by: Athelstone on 25th Sep 2012 | View all blogs by Athelstone

Amidst all the positive and enthusiastic comment following the York festival, it seems almost peevish, certainly odd, to say that I am sitting here bewildered. But, although I would like to say I emerged clear on my new direction, firm of purpose, the truth is that I emerged blinking into the daylight, wondering where to go next.

I enjoyed every part of it. I learned a huge amount. I met some wonderful people, and I spoke to an agent who not only liked my work – sorry – really liked my work, but also said that she would like to read the rest of the novel.

So that’s easy isn’t it? All I need to do is straighten out a troublesome chapter, one final polish with the adverb-removing-rag, then print it out and send it off.

Who could be bewildered?

The problem is that there were two authors who stood and spoke to the whole festival and both of them said something that rang a huge bell in my head.  Jo Jo Moyes and Stuart MacBride both spoke openly about the novels they had written before they wrote something good enough to be published. I think that between them we are looking at six or seven complete novels, all consigned to the attic.

To be clear, I’m not sitting here (in my bewilderment) thinking that a brace of second-rate early novels is a must. I’m also aware that plenty of first novels make it out there, and anyway, I already have an earlier novel sitting in the virtual drawer, gathering pixels. But ‘Dong’ that nagging feeling that won’t go away that there are some big structural issues, and ‘Dong’ the suspicion that ‘one or two’ passages may have been shoe-horned in purely to get the story from A to B, but mainly ‘Dong’ it needs a hell of a lot more work before it ought to go to that agent as a sample of the best I can do. There’s another ‘Dong’ lurking around there too – will it ever be good enough?

It’s not necessarily a bad thing this bewilderment stuff. I’ve told myself for ages that the novel has been tucked away because I needed some distance to get a perspective on it, whereas the truth is that I’ve been having more fun writing the new novel, or collection of short stories, or whatever it ends up as. Since being bewildered isn’t a particularly happy state, I have to do some serious work, and make a difficult decision at the end of it: to send or not to send.

So beware of this York business. It’s fun, but it isn’t always comfortable.

 

Comments

17 Comments

  • MarkR
    by MarkR 1 year ago
    Hi Athelstone. I agree that the York experience can be a two-edged sword, depending on the questions you walk away with. Last year it took a long time to process all the info, but that was faster than Year 1. I guess there are people that can offer professional advice on Dongs 1 - 3 and some of them are known to this community. Or you can improve the MS yourself and when you're as satisfied as you can be, send off and be damned.

    There are lots of writers who have never been asked for a full - and a recent blog suggested that Agents don't forget. You could trust their judgement and concede that they might be more objective in their assessment than you can be. At worst, however and whenever you send the full MS, you get some more feedback.

    And think about Dong number 4. Is it a help? I say not.

    Good luck.
  • mike
    by mike 1 year ago
    York sounds a rather frightening place.
    Incidentally, I have been talking leave and spent most of the time taking day trips into Kent. I went to Canterbury twice - a place I had no visited for some time. There were second hand bookshops, a huge Oxfam bookshop and all the charity shops seemed full of bookshelves. Is London really the centre of things? There seems to have been a mass exodus from South London into Kent and the Essex marshes.
    I met someone from Dulwich who now lives in Aylsford. Nor much to do with your blog, I know, but Whistable was heaving at the seams!! There is even a shop for sewing machines to cope with this.
    I wonder if a writer's circle in Chilham, for example, might be closer to things than York? I do not know? Probably not.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 1 year ago
    Athel, I can really empathise. Is this a crisis of confidence or a real worry founded on fact? I don't know, and possibly you don't know either. As Mark says, not everyone is asked for a full, so is this even a fear of success?
    Have you sought opinions from others less bonded to your work than you? I'm assuming you have.
    Do you fear that you're not up to the job of whacking it into shape? That may or may not be true. So I'd suggest you give it a go. If it doesn't end up any better, then sorry to be harsh, but that *is* the best you can do. (Now). So send it out. Find out. Trust the judgement of your chosen agent, who's read more duff MSs than you could ever write. The worst s/he can say is 'No'. But s/he might say 'Yes'. Or at least give you fresh direction from experienced eyes.
    One thing I'd say, is don't leave it too long. Your writing evolves all the time and it can be hard to get your head back into the same place that wrote that magnificent tome in the first place. I'll give you one example from my own experience and then an apocryphal story.
    Me: I'm still far too wedded to my own first tome. I think it contains wonderful writing. At the same time, I know it has structural issues, the plot meanders far too long before getting down to business. Even so, I still think it was the book I was born to write. However, I could see the flaws, but I didn't feel up to putting it right. So I left it in the drawer, awaiting the time that I was confident enough to tackle it again. A few years later, I had another go and tried re-writing the first 20,000 words (wherein most of the problems lay). And I found that I couldn't write like that any more. I knew too much. What was missing, was the exuberance of writing without a care. And so the style which had delighted me, jarred with the wiser me, writing several years on. So back in the drawer it went, and there it stays. I don't know if I'll ever have the skill to do it justice and the longer I wait, the more remote that becomes.
    So I'd say in your case, do it to the best of your ability *now* and send it out. It won't be perfect because nothing ever is. And find out if your 'now best' is good enough. Because your 'future best' will be different and you may miss your boat.
    And now my apocryphal story which I read in a 'how to' book a long time ago:
    A man takes ten years to write a book. At the end, he reads it back and says,' 'I can do better than that now.' So he starts again. It takes another ten years. At the end, he reads it back and says, 'This is rubbish, flaws all over the place. I know more now.' And spends the next ten years re-writing. Then says, 'I can write better now, so why don't I do that?' Another ten years pass. And so on.
    So my final thought, is get this the best you can *now* and send it off. Let it go. See what happens. It may be that this is your grand epic and it will fly. It may be that this is a 'learning book', in which case it's served its purpose and taught you, so that your next *new* book will be 'the one'.
    And don't forget - if this one doesn't cut the mustard but has paved the way for the one that will, you can always dust this one off and hawk it round as your second book :) Loads of people do!
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 1 year ago
    A very honest and brave blog to pen. I do wonder if there is a "fear of success" in you, too. There's a lot of truth in the comments you've had. Although publishing moves at a snail's pace a lot of the time, tastes change, fashions change, writing styles change and waiting too long while polishing something to a perfection that will never be achieved may mean that you'll miss your "now". I used to think of the path to publication as springing over a chasm - one successful leap and you're there (and if you're unsuccessful, you have to crawl all the way back up and start again). But my own experience and that of many people on this and other sites shows it's not so. It is all about two steps forward, one step back, taking the path less trodden, getting lost, sometimes hitching a lift on the fast track - you know what I mean!
  • bazbaron
    by bazbaron 1 year ago
    Hi Athelstone – I didn’t go to York so maybe, just maybe, I can offer a little perspective with your dilemma reference BELL. I had a big decision to make in 2005 - when I was presented with an opportunity to take early retirement. A life changing decision as you can imagine.

    DING – you are in control of, heed what you say in Ding 5 and that sorts Ding 2-4 out. Dong 1 - has just been answered.
    Dong 2 - I would dis-regard. Dong 3 how many times will you say that before you rack up novel number 25.

    DING
    1. I spoke to an agent who not only liked my work – sorry – really liked my work, but also said that she would like to read the rest of the novel
    2. All I need to do is straighten out a troublesome chapter, one final polish with the adverb-removing-rag, then print it out and send it off.
    3. But ‘Dong’ that nagging feeling that won’t go away that there are some big structural issues.
    4. ‘Dong’ the suspicion that ‘one or two’ passages may have been shoe-horned in purely to get the story from A to B.
    5. But mainly ‘Dong’ it needs a hell of a lot more work before it ought to go to that agent as a sample of the best I can do.

    DONG
    1. The truth is that I emerged blinking into the daylight, wondering where to go next
    2. The problem is that there were two authors who stood and spoke to the whole festival and both of them said something that rang a huge bell in my head
    3. There’s another ‘Dong’ lurking around there too – will it ever be good enough?


    BELL
    1. I have to do some serious work, and make a difficult decision at the end of it: to send or not to send.

    By the way I have been happily retired for 7 years now. I don’t regret it at all.
  • MinxieAD
    by MinxieAD 1 year ago
    You've come away from York with self doubt! I can understand that as I've recently read through the screenwriting crudentials of the WW film team and it really made me think... what am I doing? I don't think I could ever come up to that standard. But, I have story ideas which I want people to see!

    Where you're concerned, firstly, congratulations on the positives you've taken away from York! The learning process as well as an agent wanting to read your novel! Wow!!! If that doesn't make you want to ding those dongs, I don't know what will. If it helps, went through a report I had and listed the problems and read through with each one in mind - slowly correcting and slowly building on making the story right. I actually enjoyed the process as I learned a lot by doing this. Maybe you should write out all the points you feel unhappy about and do the same? Slowly alter bits you're not so happy with until you get them spot on.

    This is an amazing opportunity. Self doubt is fantastic when used the right way! The agent liked your work - she can see what you're capable of - go for it!!!

    Good luck Aths.
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 1 year ago
    York - Did we ever get our heads muddled. I sympathise. Perhaps you should try a bit of decision making theory. Whisks has a point. The time to write the book you are writing is now. We change with time. You can mess with it and miss the chance of sending it in, or take this chance to send it in. If you send it in it might become one like Stuart MacBride's lost efforts. Or it might fly.

    What's for sure is that if you don't send it, then it won't make it. Take the chance mate. It'll never be perfect but what's the worst that can happen? It's rejected. OK, get used to it. It's a chance. Take it! It won't wait forever.
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 1 year ago
    Well, ding dong, in the words of Leslie Phillips.

    Thanks all for the wise words. The truth is that I don't feel too downbeat about the situation, just in a bit of a quandary. My head tells me that the best thing to do is what I put up there (points upwards) which is to rewrite the chapter I know is a mess, and then run over the whole thing with the polish. Of course, I need to keep an eye out for the wood as I plough through the trees, but I ought to know that anyway.

    That's almost certainly what I will do.

    Whisks - what an answer. You have me bang to rights on several counts. At this point I am not so far removed from the text that it's a problem. Today I probably wouldn't start from where I started then, but it doesn't bother me much. I can also empathise with the wise Whisks looking back at the earlier work, although I have to say that in my case there's some reversal; as I look back I think I am getting less wise.

    I have to say that it isn't the book I was born to write - although there are many parts that please me. To some degree what I am working on at the moment comes closer (and I don't mean that in some clever 'It's always what you're working on at the moment that's most important' kind of way) which is part of the problem. But I know that I have to put those considerations aside, stop mucking about and just get the job done.

    Mark - Yep to all those points. SecretSpi - likewise, and I don't intend to risk this chance - just to get it clear in my mind that this is a chance. Bazbaron, if they offered me early retirement I'd take it in a heartbeat!
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 1 year ago
    Minxie - I don't regret going for a moment, and when it comes down to it nobody is twisting my arm to do anything. The sun will still rise and the world will turn. Any problem just turns out to be thoughts (blimey, I sound like a mindfulness therapy class). If I'm honest, a large part of my indecision has been down to not wanting to queer my pitch for future submissions to this agent by sending something clearly below par.

    Alan - you're right of course, and I shall press on with it. Steady the Buffs and all that.
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 1 year ago
    Hi Athel,
    I read this earlier but didn't have time to comment. Much of what I'd say has already been said in the meantime! If it helps, I felt similar about my successes at York. It took me a week to send the submission to the publisher who asked because...... well, I claimed it was because I was too busy catching up on work after York but, really, I could have done it sooner. But leaving it until the weekend after gave me time to breath and make sure I was happy with the submission etc. I think your caution is good, as along as it doesn't put you off acting altogether. I acted without caution with a submission earlier in the year and regretted it afterwards and, as far as I can tell, I've now well and truly burned my bridges there - too embarrassed to send any further queries to find out! So, take the time you need, believe in yourself and then send it - they want to see it! That's great! :-D
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 1 year ago
    Hi Skylark - thanks for that. We did discuss where I was with the MS as I thought there was no point in claiming it was 100% ready, so she doesn't expect it straight away. That said, I'm not hanging around.
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 1 year ago
    Hi Athelstone
    I share the discomfort, and the bewilderment, but I think that's more about who I am than anything I learned.
    York hit me hard all three times. I find it quite overwhelming subjecting my work to scrutiny in the company of so many amazing writers - and I don't just mean the lecturers. I don't think that's a bad thing, and it certainly hasn't put me off, but it does take me a long time to draw any definite conclusions in relation to my works in progress.
    To be honest, in the case of my newer book, I'm still drawing more on notes made by Skylark in the summer than anything I learned at York. It's about what information is relevant and useable when - everything I learned at York will come out in the wash later. I have 13 pages of notes pinned up around my workshop, so something must have sunk in! But bewilderment is a pretty permanent state with me anyway - I just muddle through.
    I agree with Skylark - believe in yourself, take your time, and submit when when you feel ready.
  • Debi
    by Debi 1 year ago
    Great blog, Ath, and great responses too. The only thing I'd add - and this applies to everyone who's in the wonderful position of having interested an agent at York - is that many agents are bogged down right now in preparation for Frankfurt. So, though you're desperate to cash in on their interest, a delay of a few weeks to make sure you've dealt with the things you *know* need attention will do no harm at all. In case you haven't seen it, Harry's blog has sage advice: http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/flirting-with-agents/

    I happen to know ;-) that you're a great writer. That's the thing to hang onto. Welcome your inner editor and trust those instincts. And kick that inner critic - the one who tells you you're never going to be good enough - right in the teeth.
  • Harry
    by Harry 1 year ago
    Yes, that flirting with agents blog of mine is a must-read for times like this. Remember that agents live on Planet Agent: a body that revolves at about one quarter earth speed, which means that what seems like an age to us is barely a summer evening passed in the mind of an agent.

    So take your time. Get the MS right - or as right as you can - and take as much time as you need in doing that. But then - sod it: get the damn thing out there. The worst thing that can happen is that an agent says no, and quite frankly no first novel is perfect anyway. I reckon I'm just getting into my stride now, and I'm about a dozen books into my career, depending a little on how you count 'em. Wating for perfection makes no sense to me.
  • Old Fat Prop
    by Old Fat Prop 1 year ago
    I agree with Debi and Harry although with less authority (is that a pun?). Like you, I am mid fiftys and I don't have time to perfect my craft for 15 years in order to make the best sellers list.

    Robert Harris wrote Fatherland and left it in a drawer for ten years before returning re-writing it. Great book, but I came to this writing lark too late to stumble around for a decade.

    For me, it is get it as write/right as possible and throw it out there.
  • mike
    by mike 1 year ago
    I was told to try for ten years and not give up the day job. I did send stuff stuff for the ten years and then kept as writing as a hobby. Nobody had been interested in an anything I had written, though I only sent off the first chapter and synopsis,
    Some years ago, the first article I sent off to a newspaper, was published and spread over three issues of the paper, including one full page spread. This was 'The South London Press;' It wasn't even possible to capitilize on this amount of publicity, I too would have preferred to give up work and write but it isn't really an option.
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 1 year ago
    John - 'it does take me a long time to draw any definite conclusions in relation to my works in progress'. I think that's a characteristic I can defintely recognise in myself.

    Debi - thanks for those words, and for the confidence. I shall make good use of the next few weeks. I've already split my problem chapter into two chapters and cut out a major scene which may be repositioned in the book, or the bin.

    Harry - there's advice in the blog which is just what I need.

    OFP - there's something in what you say about age. It's not that things are urgent exactly, it's just that you become aware that the moving finger is doing more writing than you are.

    Mike - I always enjoy reading what you post. You come across as an intelligent well-read man writing about what interests him. I know you're fond of researched pieces but I recall a couple of fiction pieces you posted. In particular, I was very fond of a piece called 'Meetings with a muse.' Have you never felt like revisiting that?
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