The Call of the Drawing Board.
Long-time readers of this page will know that I've always tried to stick to a once-a-month timetable for the blog, but I appear to have missed the entire month of November and just about the whole of December in one impressive swoop. I know I often seem to say this, but I seriously don't know where the time has gone: one minute I was penning the last blog on the 31st October, the next minute I looked up and it was 23rd DECEMBER. (In capital letters to underline my disbelief and slight sense of confusion.) The one happy coincidence is that, from today, I'm now on holiday until 10th January, so – whilst I wouldn't like to guarantee that I'll be any less slack about updating this page in the future – it does at least mean that I've now got 18 days off in which to rattle on with Book 3.
Oh, Book 3.
I have to say, Book 3 has been incredibly painful so far. I always expected The Dead Tracks to be the one that really shook my resolve, but actually – once it got going – it was pretty straightforward to write. Most of that, I think, was down to the fact that I'd lived with the synopsis, the story and the characters, for a long time. Before Chasing the Dead was published – in fact, back in the days when it was being rejected by anyone who strayed within sight of it – I started to work on ideas for the second book because it looked like the only way to get anyone interested was to write something entirely new. So, even when Chasing was finally signed by Penguin, and after, throughout the editing process, The Dead Tracks was always there in the background, ticking over constantly. By the time it comes out on 3rd February, I would probably have lived its world for about 3-4 years, which is undoubtedly why it proved a relatively stress-free project. (Relatively.)
Book 3, though, has been very different. I've only been working on it since September, the synopsis came together very fast, and my submission deadline is Spring next year, which is about six months less than I had for The Dead Tracks. The whole time I've been mildly unhappy with how it's been going. I don't feel like I've had anywhere near enough time to live the world, the characters and the storyline. Which was why, a week ago, I decided to send the first 200 pages off to my agent to have a look at.
I got her notes back today.
They're good notes. Not 'Well done Tim - it's all coming together nicely!' notes, but 'You've got the basis of something good here, but you need to make some big changes' notes. And you know what? I'm really pleased it's the second and not the first: the first would suggest it was all going okay, despite the fact that something was nagging at me, some uncertainty about the book. The second means I was absolutely right to question what I'd put down on paper, and I was right to be worried about the way things were unfolding. Writing a book shouldn't be rocket science. If it doesn't feel like it's working, most of the time it's because it's not working – and that's the point at which you either need to cut your losses and return to the original plan (nine times out of ten, I hit a dead end because I've strayed too far from the original synopsis), or you need to do something even more bold and difficult, and that's tweak the plan itself to better reflect where you've taken the story. The latter would absolutely terrify me, I have to say, but then I'm a particularly neurotic writer. I'm sure there are novelists, and indeed I've read interviews with a few, who just sit down in front of their computers and write. How it comes together, how it resembles something even vaguely publishable, is beyond the capabilities of my tiny mind, but I'm absolutely in awe of them. Not least because, if I had those abilities, I probably wouldn't have to strip-mine half the novel I've just written.
So, it's back to the drawing board (in a way), but whilst it might make for more work now, it'll save me a whole lot more heartache at the end. For me, it's important to show progress: it's personally important, to feel like I'm learning and evolving as a writer, and I think it's important for readers to see that the books are progressing, that they're each their own entities, and that Raker, as a character, continues to grow more interesting, rather than less interesting, as the series progresses. If I'd tried to power through with Book 3 as was, I'm not sure any of those things would have happened.
Finally, before I sign off for the last time in 2010, I need to say a repeat thank you to everyone who regularly (or irregularly) reads this blog, and especially to everyone who went out and bought Chasing the Dead. May you have a fantastic Christmas and an absolutely storming New Year!
Author of the David Raker novels