Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder what the hell I’m doing. Trying to write, trying to blog – desperately trying to think of something new to say, or some new way of saying the same old thing.
Technically I’m sure I’m a better writer than I was fifteen months ago, when I first sent Night Shift out to this agent. I can feel my skills developing, my mindset broadening. It’s now a better novel. I’ve slowed things down. I’ve drawn out conversations, hopefully still keeping conflict and plot foremost, to give the characters time to breathe. I’ve added around 7,000 words in total and I obviously think that’s for the best. But when you’re doing this you lose track of the pacing. I worry whether I’m just damping the highs and lows of my set-pieces and the emotional echoes that come in the aftermath of high-impact scenes. What if my new McGuffins don’t carry enough weight and look as if they’ve been inserted by a ham-fisted keyboard-masher?
Self-doubt is a constant in writing, and it’s not a bad thing in itself. It keeps me humble and open to new ideas, keeps me working, keeps me going. But I am the worst judge of my own work there is. What if I’m totally misunderstanding what it takes to improve this damn thing? What if the bits I’m adding are clichés, mis-steps, caricature? I think I’m walking along my original thread of Idea and broadening the plot from a straight line – pitched with peaks and troughs, incidents and investigations but ultimately two-dimensional – and turning it into a more rounded, three dimensional psycho-drama.
What if I’m wrong?
‘…I appreciate the work you’ve done, but ultimately I don’t think I can take this forward…’
That’s my fear. However it’s worded – polite, no doubt, but definitely cutting and absolute – these are the sentiments that I tell myself is the most likely outcome of my year-long dalliance with this agent. I know this: I’m operating in a business and I’ll only be taken on if they feel they can make money out of me. I’m fine with that. Intellectually I know that even after two rewrites at their direction, the most likely outcome is still rejection.
‘….Your writing undoubtedly has potential but their remains too much work to do to make it commercially viable, and so, with regret…’
I’m coming to the end of the work I can usefully do on Night Shift. Just another 90 pages of line-edits then it’s off to the beta readers – if I can find any – and we’re done. That means it’s back to the agent who’s been patiently waiting for the best part of a year. This is my last chance; she won’t give me another go. It’s a risk, putting all your efforts into pleasing one person, and with no guarantees.
‘…I have to say I’m a little disappointed with this rewrite; you’ve not quite got to grips with what I was wanting and so I’m afraid I’ll have to pass…’
And that’s before I even get started on this blog. The times I lie, half-asleep, and worry that I come across like an adolescent assured of his own immortality: patronising, aloof and somehow repulsive.
I still keep going. Night terrors ain’t got nothing on single-minded self-delusion.
And this, ultimately, is a writer’s life.