Well, I finished the first draft of “Cruise Control”, the day before I headed overseas on holiday. I printed out three copies, posted one up North, gave one to my mum and took one with me to read on the plane.
It wasn’t long before I realised that the book has problems. When I start skim-reading my own writing because it’s over-written, that’s not good. When I find myself getting bored, that’s even worse. And when I cringe at how some of the characters’ actions just don’t make sense, that’s a big problem.
But there were plenty of good parts, and the ending worked really well. I restrained myself from crossing out entire pages as I’d promised the book to a friend, settling for just editing the odd typo. My friend that I was travelling with read it, and she said the book was great.
I heard from my mum a week into my trip, telling me that the book just wasn’t working for her, and she was finding it hard to get through, because the plot was stalling in the middle. I’d felt the same way, and told her so. Relieved, she sent me a list of things that she didn’t like. I can always count on her for honesty!
Meanwhile, however, several other readers have read and loved the book, said it kept them up reading all night, and that it made them cry, and are instructing me not to change it too much.
But it needs help. It’s not yet the book that I want it to be. I think right now it’s good, with some parts that are great and some parts that are just okay. But I’m not here to write “good” books. I’m here to write great ones! Like anything in life, there’s no point striving towards mediocrity.
When I start to tell a story, it is alive in my mind. The characters, their nuances, the details of their lives slowly come to light as I write, but from the very start I have a strong feel for these people. I know who they are, and the story that I’m trying to tell. “Cruise Control” isn’t there yet. In its current form, it’s still hazy, still an idea not yet fully executed.
So I sat down one evening in Canastota, NY and started writing notes. Picking apart the characters, trying to work out how to make the story flow better. Which characters to bring into the book more, and which to push aside. Which characters needed more fleshing out, and which needed less help. Which scenes should be cut, and what scenes needed to be written in.
It’s going to take time, as writing always does, and unfortunately there are no real shortcuts. But I feel more focused now, and I’m confident that what people loved about the book won’t change. It’s just that everything around those parts will work better, will read better, and will feel more real.