Marcus Sedgwick: Storm clouds clearing

July 2022

It is raining. A lot. This is not what I signed up for when moving to the south of France, but before I go to my local mairie and ask for a refund, I suppose I should just take it all on board, life and its expectations blah blah, accept whatever comes eyeroll eyeroll, and put up with it. And truly, the garden needs the water, and I’m not really complaining, I just wish I could find a builder to return my calls as my roof needs fixing, and I don’t want it to rain on guests for my writing retreat while they are asleep. That would be less than ideal.

Some things are unpredictable. Other things…well, I really ought to know better. I learned long ago (and apparently had forgotten) that I should not start to write a book until I have at least three quarters of the sense that I am ready to write it. This is just the way I work, and it usually doesn’t let me down. But…

This morning, I finished what was for me quite a hefty rewrite on a short book. There were some quite major structural things to do, involving deleting certain threads, sneaking in new ones, moving others, changing the timeline, and all the extraneous fall out from that kind of work. I know why this happened: I did not feel I was really ready to start writing. I mean, we never do entirely, but I have my own personal instinctive benchmark for the moment when it might be okay to begin. And on this occasion, with a deadline pressing, and the thought that it was ‘only’ a short book, I began anyway.

The result was a bit of a mess of a first draft and hence the rewriting required. I’ve done what I think is needed now, and I fully see that this second draft is much better (in my opinion) than the first – things are clearer and stronger, but I can’t shift the belief that I would have got to this in a first draft had I not broken my rule of not writing without enough of an idea what I’m doing.

As I’ve said before, many, many times, there is no one way to be a writer. That applies even to yourself, not just to all writers – you can change and adapt and be many different types of writer with each thing you work on. And here we are, I hope I now have a second draft my editor likes better, but there is never any guarantee that rewrites will improve matters, if what you have to start with is too much of a dog’s dinner. And how much more risky it is to hope that what you might later need to do to change things fits with what you already have. It’s that or write a whole new book. So I got away with it this time, but it’s reminded me that before I start the next book, later this year – which is a three year project of much greater extent – that I really must make sure I know, more or less, what I am doing, because I do not want to have to repeat an exercise like this on a long book. I see this process of waiting for the right moment to begin writing as like a game of chicken. I know I must hold out until that right moment, even if a deadline is hurrying towards me. But then, one must remember what Terry Pratchett said about deadlines: “I love the sound they make as they fly past.”

The rain has stopped, unexpectedly. The sky is clearing and becoming blue again. I can see clearly for a little while, at least. So time to put off writing for a little while longer, and make the most of it.

Want to learn more from Marcus?

Author Marcus Sedgwick is 2022 Novel Writer-in-Residence for the Hub, WriteMentor’s community learning platform that connects like-minded storytellers and provides all the tools they need for writing success.

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