The Author As Lighthouse Keeper
Last week our London flat was besieged; there was drilling from the gutted apartment below, hammering from the roofers above and steeplejacks were clambering past all the windows. The once-every-7-years building renovation had coincided with neighbours’ makeovers. Electric saws were operating at variable pitches, sounding like bassoons on feedback. I’m not normally sensitive to such sounds – my brother and I are both tinnitus sufferers so we just plug in headphones – but this proved a little too much.
I’ve never believed much in writers’ retreats – the silence of the countryside just makes me aware of inner ear noise – but knew that the only way to tackle the final draft of a new standalone thriller would be to take it all apart, reorganise the timeline and reassemble it. To do that you have to keep it in your head night and day. This means 100% focus, no breaks or interruptions, seclusion and a surprising amount of stamina.
A 27 quid Easyjet flight got me to our dark, gothic flat in Barcelona, where I have the run of the place and can turn it into the inside of my mind. I’m now three days in and have been out twice to the local shop – no alcohol or red meat, no TV or visitors, no strictly planned hours – and no notes, just what’s in my head. Lighthouse keepers probably have more active social lives.
Last night the process finally came alive, and I worked until 3:00am. At this stage the book looks like an accident victim patched together with plasters. I have managed 62 pages out of 400. 150 pages will most likely be cut. All awkward sentences must be removed. Some contain crucial pieces of information that must be relocated elsewhere. Refocussing reader attention onto different characters changes a book’s entire dynamic.
Oh, and I now have no ending.
I have never done this before, locked myself away to basically tear something apart, but it’s proving to be an amazing exercise. I’m not sure what I’ll come back with. I’d quite like to plaster the entire flat in pages and bits of red string, as writers do in films, then rearrange all the scenes accordingly. As scriptwriters it was standard practice to use scissors and glue.
I know there are online systems for this – I tried Scrivener, with its skeuomorphic cork boards, and it seemed so complicated that the system got in the way of the writing. Probably the biggest problem is eye and neck strain as I currently have 8 windows open on a Macbook Air.
Does anyone know of a better way of doing this, or should I get out the scissors? All tips on procedure will be mulled over.