Often in the morning, sitting at my computer, watching the clock, and frantically looking for a topic for the first post, I relent and grab a book from my pile of novels and writing texts. Sometimes that even helps.
It helped today.
One of my all-time favorite novels is “The Magus” by John Fowles. It is a wonderful book filled with complex characters and subplots. It has been called ‘A major work of mounting tensions in which the human mind is the guinea-pig’
One of the features of this book is how long it took Fowles to write, and what he did with the novel after it was finished.
He began writing “The Magus” in the 1950s, originally calling the manuscript “The God Game“. If you’ve read the book you will know that this title also fits well. “The Magus” was his first “completed” novel, but his second to see publication.
It took him 12 years to write and rewrite the novel. I read it the year it was released, and as said above, loved the book. But, here is where it gets really interesting. While the book was published, was both commercially and critically a success, he did not feel it was finished.
Fowles continued to work on the novel and finally republished it in 1977. I was startled by this, but hurried to purchase it nonetheless. Once again I was enthralled by the story. So seamless was Fowles rewrite that I was hard put to find the differences between the versions. (Of course many years had passed between reading the first and revised versions.)
How does this touch you and me? Even though the chances that one of my novels will reach the same level of recognition as Fowles’, what he did gives me hope about quality. One of the fears I have—and it is one that has held me back—is that the work isn’t quite ready to see light of day… that just another run-through will clean up the red herrings, the dead herrings, the last few typos or logical flaws. Then I think that no amount of editing and re-reading will ever find all the mistakes in a basically flawed work, I put the manuscript away and work on a new project.
Does this sound familiar? Surely not all of you will have fallen prey to this, but perhaps some of you?
What Fowles teaches us by the way he handled his wildly successful book is this, just because it’s been published, it doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.
Stephen King re-released his epic novel, “The Stand” (another novel very high on my list of greats). Not being sure of the quality of our work is a good thing. Paranoia about completion can serve you, but just so far.
The trick, I think, is to do the best you can, and let it go. There may always be time for a fresher version.