“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Friday, April 1, 2011

On Final Revisions And The Inevitable Self-Loathing

O, the hypocrisy. A source of teeth-grinding envy when he puts pen to paper himself, Allan Guthrie (not pictured, right) was kind enough to ask me to contribute a post to his new blog, Criminal-E, which concerns itself with crime and mystery novels available as ebooks, and said post went live today - herewith be the linkity-link.
  Why the hypocrisy? Well, the gist of the post - and that of all the other authors featured on Criminal-E - is that we talk about the process of writing. Now, as a rule, I love talking about books but hate talking about writing, mainly because, as a writer, I’m shooting in the dark every time I sit down at the desk. My books aren’t so much written as eventually cobbled together into some kind of legible form, and possibly by pixies who come out at night when I’m asleep, to very generously reassemble my pathetic efforts into a coherent narrative. Asking me about issues like style, pace, character and so on is akin to asking a three-toed sloth about its digestion. It needs to get done, and somehow it gets done, but the process and consequences don’t bear too much close scrutiny.
  That’s me on a good day. On a bad day, I just shrug and say, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be marvellous to be a three-toed sloth and not have to give a crap about all this?’
  All of which is pertinent, given that I’m having a bad week. I’m revising - for the last time, I hope - my current offering, formerly known as THE BABY KILLERS, now revelling in the unlikely title of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL. The book is due with the publishers, Liberties Press, in two weeks time, to be published in September. The revision, as always, began as ‘just a final spit-and-polish, I’ll breeze through it’, but has now - as always - become a rather more serious redraft. Why this should be a surprise at this stage is beyond me, because (mixed metaphor ahoy!) I’m an inveterate tinkerer, and once you tug at a single stray thread, the whole tapestry starts to unravel.
  At this point, having spent most of the week redrafting, and currently up to my oxters in loose threads and tufts of wool, I feel like I’m actually doing damage rather than making improvements. It doesn’t help that this is the twelfth, thirteenth or maybe twentieth time I’ve been over some of the sections, but it feels unpardonably dull (it’s supposed to be a black comedy), dead and brittle as old bones that have been raked over once too often. Part of the problem, too, is that it will have been over three years since the publication of my last novel, THE BIG O, by the time ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL arrives, and I have no guarantee that I’ll ever seen another novel published after that. So I think I’m trying too hard, trying to say too much, placing too much hope on the book’s slender shoulders (it’s only a story, after all).
  I’ll get through it. Slog on, plough through, slice away. Slough off the self-loathing. In two weeks time, or possibly three, I’ll send off the final revisions and waltz around on a cloud, eight miles high, for about a couple of hours. Then, the next morning, I’ll wake up seeing all the mistakes and blunders, the clumsy non sequiturs, the clich├ęs, the irrelevancies, and come crashing down to earth again, utterly deflated.
  Still, there’s always the proofs, isn’t there? Maybe then I’ll finally get it right-right-right ...
  My line for today comes courtesy of Samuel Beckett: Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

6 comments:

Dana King said...

Sounds to me like you're about finished. My test for when a book or story is complete is when I can't bear to look at it anymore. After that I know I'm re-arranging deck chairs, taking out and replacing commas.

If you're sick of it, it's not the story that's got you. Maybe it's your gut getting ready ready to go on to what's next, having made peace with this project before your brain has.

Pepper Smith said...

Yup. Been there, done that. If you've got a couple of weeks, set it aside for a day or two and give your brain a break.

bookwitch said...

Just leave it alone. It doesn't want to be bullied.
And WHAT do you know about textiles?

Declan Burke said...

Much obliged, folks. I can't go on, I'll go on, etc. And on, and on, and on ...

Cheers, Dec

Ruby Barnes said...

It's the slough of despond, the mud pit of Total Wipeout's sucker punch. Hmmm, I thought you were a bit too good to be true on Criminal E when you said you liked editing! ;-]

Anonymous said...

Hah, I am in that EXACT place so my sympathies. Plough on good sir, you have a fine book to tinker with so it is unlikely you will do any damage. By the way I really like the new title.
Arlene