In The Author this summer Tony Staveacre tells the story of his friend Jackie Hamilton ‘ a broken down Liverpool comic’ who died in 2003 without seeing the play about a ‘Scouse club- comedian’ for which he was the inspiration, finally make the ‘leap from page to stage’ in 2011. Tony’s idea for his play was born more than a decade before. The first draft was produced in 2000 and then after some sage advice reduced from 47 to 25 pages and was then performed by Les Dennis at the Edinburgh Fringe, Highgate, Bristol and the Royal Court in Liverpool to critical acclaim.
People sometimes ask me how long it takes to write a novel and I generally reply about eighteen months, six months research, a years writing. This is not entirely true. While this is the intention there is a process of gestation when the idea floats around my brain for months or perhaps a couple of years, then it takes hold and tempting snippets of information crop up when I am not actually seeking them out; that’s when I know I am on to something. Research has an uncanny way of appearing, as if the universe is trying to signal its approval for the project. The tough bit comes later; I offer the novel to avid reader friends, writer and editor friends and then begin the tortuous process of re-drafting.
The really tough bit comes when you send it out to prospective agents. There is the bland standard rejection, from which one gleans nothing. Then there is the effusive junior agent who sends it up the food chain to a senior agent, who then rejects it; this time you might get a little more feedback. And then there is something altogether better, you hit the desk of an agent who really enjoys your writing and is generous enough to offer you some advice; not take you on, but suggest that if you made some changes she or he might read it again. That is when you have to take a long hard look at your novel and understand what the agent is telling you about its weaknesses. Given at this point that the agent is not working for you, has many other calls on their time and is not receiving any remuneration for this advice, you should think yourself jolly lucky and feel encouraged. I am currently feeling encouraged by just such a response. This then is my ‘grit’ moment. When yet again I have to steel myself, go back to the text and re-work it, because there is another useful homily, ‘If you always do what you always did, you get what you always got.’ Now it’s not as if I haven’t done a lot of editing and re-drafting already, but armed with what I see as valid comment on the opening of my novel I am taking a long hard look at the plot-driven aspects of my novel; re-drafting and ramping up the action at the front, which will probably mean cutting, moving or removing, some much-loved scenes. Re-editing for the umpteenth time a text that I am now so familiar it is not an easy task - it takes diligence and perseverance.
At the end of Tony Staveacre’s article there is this quote from Calvin Coolidge:
‘Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.’
There are a number of writers who are now household names who took between 16 and 30 years to become 'an overnight sensation.' Joanna Trollope, Phillip Pullman and Mark Haddon; clearly they stuck it out. (See www.richwriterpoorwriter.com)
If, like me, some merit has been found in your writing and suggestions are made for altering the manuscript then take that advice on board. Take small incremental steps and persevere, because as the dictionary definition at the top of this page states: Steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc, especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement.