So I spent another couple of days not writing. And feeling guilty… and working frantically on getting a wallaby and possum proof vegetable enclosure done. The seasons wait for no-one, and basically if i don’t get my veg in soon, we’ll get very little this season. On the other hand if I don’t get back to focusing on writing we’ll get very little this season too. I’m feeling a little thin and stretched, and the bureaucrat stress is not helping. I have a now proof-read book I have to enter the proofs to, and a lot of work on others, as well as several new books partly underway. But the last couple of days have been about rough carpentry.
Rough as guts, with a chainsaw rather than a scroll-saw, but it’s going up. Part of the problem is that it’s all done with scrap. You know the joke about the guy who kept a piece of wood for something 20 years ago, because he was sure it would be useful (and he’s still got it, and it still hasn’t been)? I am not that guy. Half the structures on the farm, from fences to buildings, are made with scrap. The rest merely have a lot of it in. Almost everything gets used. I do throw things away, but they have to be far beyond any revival in the whole or component. It makes for cheap… and it makes for a lot of ingenuity in using it – it’s not quick, but it is solid and robust. It is sometimes not beautiful. That’s not because it can’t be, but because I haven’t made it that way. I like beautiful. But there are times when I love functional and cheap more.
You see, you can always improve on things. Yes, it’s great if you do a perfect, beautiful job the first time, but… let’s be honest, I usually have to do it a couple of times to get it right anyway. And the important detail with so many of the things I’ve built… is if I had to do them perfectly – instead of getting it done and fixing the structure, most of it would not get done at all. The veg should be IN in another two days. Its purpose is grow veg to feed us, not to be an objet d’art. It’s nice to get that, maybe, but bloody useless if I get no tomatoes and spuds. As with our orchard, where the work is still ongoing and will be for a few years, we have something to work on, and get some sort of yield. I’ve years to improve on both, and I will.
The same, of course, holds with books. Look, there are writers who produce the written equivalent of fine cabinet-making out of the starting blocks. I wish I was one. My first drafts… aren’t ever really first drafts. Actually, by the time they get to first draft and being given to first readers, they’re still full of splinters and skew nails. But I’ve already pulled them apart (not the whole thing, but piece by piece, rebuilt and made fit the other bits). By that time they’re usually solid robust stories at least structurally.
The key is that I can envisage some of a story as the plot I work from. But I can’t actually know the characters, what they would actually do, and make it all fit together… until I have the whole structure.
It’s very rough ‘carpentry’ There are those who say that’s where you leave it, overworking it simply wastes writing time. I suspect that depends on the writer. It doesn’t work for me, but it may for you. For me it is vitally important to get the story down in some form, and then start making it something others might like to read, because if I focused on getting every word, every sentence, every paragraph and every scene perfect, instead of pushing through and sometimes skipping ahead, I’d still be busy with my first – unpublished – book.
The other thing some of us – me – lose sight of is the PURPOSE of the book. I’m far from alone – a lot of publishers and editors let alone authors have the same problem. For me the purpose of the book -like my veg cage -trumps ‘pretty’. I forget that as a writer, but as a reader, I am aware that there’s a place for flowery prose or introspection or philosophy or politics – but it isn’t in middle of an action scene, or in certain types of books. I don’t go to my veg garden to look at the woodwork, but to fetch carrots. When I want carrots, if the woodwork is beautiful, either I don’t see it, or, if it stops me pulling carrots easily, am irritated by it. Books are not that different.