My Inner Reader and Editing have rather taken over my life in the last few months. This is for a range of reasons. The reasons were all pleasant – or , at least, interesting. But her arrival was a surprise. And, as it turns out, a game changer.
Enter the Inner Reader
I should explain about my Inner Reader. She’s bit of mystery woman. I’d almost forgotten about her, to be honest.
When an agent took on my first book, I had a day job in the City of London. It fascinated me and I learned a lot in this new-to-me world of finance. I was even solving problems, in a minor way. Don’t think of me as unhappy in any way.
But I wasn’t writing,
Well, I was writing – stuff my employer wanted: analyses, reports, draft letters for someone senior to sign. Letters that had the force of law, too. They came with set forms of words that I could dictate in my sleep.
And my Inner Reader knew that, except to a very few specialists, those words would mean absolutely nothing at all. Zip. Zilch. Nada. They conveyed as much information as chemical formulae would to a non chemist. It was code.
Now, there is a charm to writing in code. It’s the key to a secret society, after all.
I told my Inner Reader she wasn’t a member.
Ignoring the Inner Reader
For a few months I went on happily writing this stuff and getting my life together – finding a place to live, catching up with friends. I refused to listen to the bit of me that was used to writing stuff with delight because I knew that I was going to enjoy reading it later.
But then something happened. (I got rheumatic fever. Maybe I hadn’t been as happy as I thought.)
The need to write was back and it was urgent.
Inner Readers and the Urge to Write in the first Place …
My new agent gave me a Talking To and took me to a PEN meeting. In those days it was in Dilke Street, Chelsea. The place was full of writers whose works I knew. Over-awed, I heard Lettice Cooper and Diana Pullein-Thompson agree that they’d started to write because they ran out of books they wanted to read.
My half forgotten Inner Reader gave me a mighty kick in the solar plexus and said, “LISTEN.”
Long before this, my mother had told me about Disraeli saying, “When I want to read a book, I write one.” We’d both thought it was peacock posturing, not meant to be taken seriously. But here were two eminently readable and distinctly non-posturing ladies, saying the same thing.
And I realised – the carefully crafted, edited and re-edited book that I had given my agent to sell was NOT WHAT I WANTED TO READ.
These days, of course, I know exactly how important that is. Toni Morrison has said “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” Nora Roberts told The Guardian in 2011 “I started to write the kind of stories that I wanted to read. It was very instinctive. You just wanted the heroines to be a bit feisty.”
My own Inner Reader has fought her way out of the shadows and come back punching her weight this year. Three times.
The first was when I wrote The Prince’s Bride and made a complete horlicks of revising early drafts. Editors and fellow authors shook me awake on that one. Going through their comments, I slowly felt my way back to the book wanted to read.
Second, the woman in the mask started popping up in my dreams, talking about books that are so nearly finished it hurts.
“You know you want this character to do dance,” she said about one. “Cut to the chase NOW.”
Looks as if she’s right.
And third, finalising with Joanna Maitland next weekend’s editing workshop, I realised that there was a piece of the jigsaw I had been ignoring when we talked about making choices.
“You’ll have to handle that,” I told Joanna. “I always keep my characters’ options open far too long.”
That mysterious woman, my Inner Reader finally lost her temper at that.
“Stop letting the bloody characters bully you. What do you want to READ?”
She was right.
Trust your Inner Reader. Always.