Friday, May 16, 2014

First And Last

Quoted by Nalo Hopkinson in a recent tweet, here's Samuel R. Delany pithily summarising how his dyslexia affects his writing, in answer to a question put to him by Junot Diaz: 'I'm a very bad writer. What I am is a good rewriter.'

Actually, I don't know many people who write near-perfect first drafts. I certainly don't. Well, okay, I have written a few short stories more or less straight out, but that was a rare confluence of luck and inspiration, and they were very short short stories. But with novels I find the trick is to keep going to the end, and to resist the temptation to start revising halfway through. To keep pushing forward, somehow. To let the narrative and characters find their own logic and flow (and to let them surprise you: I'm still childishly delighted when they do). And when I reach the end of the first draft, the real work begins - making the story comprehensible to itself, and to others. It doesn't finish until the proofs are pried from my hands.

Right now, I'm at the ante-penultimate stage with Something Coming Through: folding in the notes and comments and corrections from my editor, and polishing the text one last time. In some ways an oddly nostalgic task, like reading the diary and looking at the photographs of a holiday you took in some other country a couple of years ago. That odd roadside shrine, that beach, the cafe where you ate breakfast every day, the little lizard basking on a stone . . . Meanwhile, the difficulties you had getting there in the first place are all forgotten.


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