Over the last couple weeks I’ve been very preoccupied with getting the first 100-page section (the Part I) of my new novel, The Tourist, into decent shape for limited distribution. By “limited distribution” I mean my US and UK editors and my new agent, Stephanie Cabot. (Sadly, my previous agent, the wonderful Matt Williams, recently retired from the business.)
With few exceptions, I never show anybody anything until I’ve reached the end of a workable draft. The reason for this is twofold. First, I generally work under some form of the auteur theory, and feel that the first draft must be entirely my own. Largely, it’s the fear that if the book becomes too diluted with various other influences, it’ll lose its power.
The second reason I keep pages close to my chest is more self-serving. I don’t want to show off lousy pages, and in the early stages there’s always something lousy about your pages. Add to that the truism that opinions (of editors, agents, etc) are usually made on first viewing, and there’s the potential for a whole crowd of disappointed readers, before you’ve had a chance to write it through and right the wrongs on your own.
But this time I’m doing it differently. Why? Fear, mostly. The fear of the unknown. For the past five years, my fictional Cold War world has been my “known”. It’s been my constant, and my protection. In its own way, it’s been “original” by definition, because while there are a lot of Cold War novels out there, few take place in the East, and none star the same cast of characters as mine.
With this new one, of course, all rules are off. Not only am I dealing more with the West, I’m coming up with fresh characters, placing them in the present (a time-period that everyone is an expert in) and attempting to make from the well-trod spy genre something that is, again, my own. Something that, in the end, will be original in a genre that’s full of the expected.
Now, this is the reason it’s taken me so damned long to get out a decent 100 pages. I’ve been working on this since I turned in the first draft of Victory Square back in early September. That’s something like 5 months of work, in which I’ve written about 400 pages, only to end up with 100 now. See how worried I am that I won’t get it right, that it might read like “a bunch of other things I read”?
I wasn’t just rewriting all that time. I was also trying out a new technique: outlining. Intense outlining. My outlines are usually no more than a page in length, and I thought I’d try an intense, 20 or so page outline, so I could get the structure right before getting into the actual text. Even now, it sounds like a good idea, but the reality is that I can’t. Others can, and they do very well, but I’ve learned I’m not wired that way. Because when I write from an outline, the story goes flat and uninteresting. It’s half as fun to write and the resulting sentences are twice as dull.
Despite the ups and downs, though, I do feel good about the novel, or else I wouldn’t have sent off the pages.
I’m sharing all this because I’m curious. Do other writers out there run early sections past their business partners like this, or do you hold them to your chest until you’re done? And—more importantly—does one method seem to have an advantage over the other? Does the cacophany of voices only serve to confuse, or does it help focus on the real problems in the draft?
I’ll find out my own answers soon enough, but as I fret over what I’ve unleashed, you might as well reinforce my fears. It’s what blogs are for.
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)