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Rewrites

26 February 2004

Ooh, days off. Several days off. It feels strange, when my motorís still running: almost an enforced idleness, against the natural order. It always takes time for the momentum to die, for my brain to shift gear (mixed mechanical metaphors, hey-ho), to recognise that what was imperative yesterday is immaterial today. So that was the weekend, finding ways to keep busy when I was still jittery and felt I should be working - pleasant ways were found: an evening out, a day with friends upcountry, a quiet day with books and TV, like that - and then on Monday began the second part of the process, reworking this new section of the novel.

Itís odd to be doing it at this stage, mid-book; I donít usually like to look back until a projectís finished, for fear of hating everything Iíve done. This time itís necessary, though - and itís okay, I donít hate it, I donít want to tear it up. Actually, on a first read-through, itís better than I thought. Which is a problem, of course, because that means thereís less obviously redundant matter to cut out. It just wants to be a biiiig book, and itís not allowed; I may need to be ruthless, but maybe not quite yet. At the moment Iím losing what wastage there is, and weíll see where that leaves us, whether Iíll have to go through again and simply cut for length, rather than for art. (Do they do this to painters, I wonder? Yes, Mr Rembrandt, it's very lovely, but look, itís a foot wider than the frame we want to use...)

I do kind of like this polishing-and-cutting process, but itís difficult to regulate or measure. Writing is easy, you can just count, words or pages or whatever, and that sets a target that builds up a head of pressure: Canít stop yet, be a shame to stop at four when I did five yesterday. I suppose I can count words unwritten, words cut out, but thatís only a part of what Iím doing now, and it doesnít bear the same absolute scrutiny. I could spend all day reworking four pages, and cut five hundred words; I could get through twenty pages, and cut five hundred words. How do you compare? Was I being obsessive with one, or slack with the other - or did I do the same thorough job on both? Canít say. But it is easy to get obsessive, to spend an hour on a paragraph, fretting over every word. This is when they tell me I still have the mind-set of a poet. Which is when I bite them. Novelists care too...


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© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.