When it comes to travel writing, knowledge boosts confidence. I know how much I know about the places I write about. I know I know more about most of them than many of the people who will read the articles. That might sound presumptuous, but it’s not. There’s a reason I can say that without it being an arrogant or fanciful claim.
The bulk of the places we travel to, we do so on a mission – a mission to create something new, something different. Months are spent with colleagues coming up with a plan to create a customised walking/Slow Travel holiday in off the beaten track areas of Europe. The routes we create are carefully pieced together to fit. Many don’t exist as complete walking routes until we knit them together. We choose restaurants, things to do, places to see etc. based on our preferences and the holiday’s needs. There’s no PR company or tourist board pointing us in the same direction as every other travel writer who comes their way. There are areas where we had never encountered any British hikers until after we helped create walking routes there, so we know we have exclusive knowledge. And knowledge breeds confidence.
Fiction, on the other hand, is a vastly different affair. I have knowledge of my book’s subject matter, but do the descriptions create the scenes I want them to? Are the characters believable, or likeable? Ninety-something thousand words requires a hell of a bigger commitment from readers than a thousand words does. Is the story strong and compelling enough hold the interest and carry readers along with it as the plot unravels?
There are not just seeds of doubt, there are huge, flourishing forests.
After a second edit, I reluctantly passed my ‘Scottish’ novel to Andy to proofread and cast a critical eye over. It was a far more difficult thing to do than I expected. What if she hated it?
In Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he mentions driving while his wife read a recently completed manuscript. He was completely distracted, keeping an eye on her to see if she laughed, gasped etc. at the right spots. Neither of us wanted that sort of pressure, so Andy took her laptop to a different room when she had time to read my book.
Even so, for a couple of weeks I was plagued by all sorts of dark thoughts about just how bad she’d think it was, and visions of Andy sitting on the sofa in the floor above wondering how she was going to break the difficult news … even though she told me quickly she was hooked by the opening chapters.
The experience invoked feelings that no other writing experience has in 17 years of penning travel articles or guidebooks, and even a travel memoir. I felt completely naked, exposed. In writing terms, it was like going right back to square one. Who am I to think I can write a novel?
Andy had lots of suggestions to tweak the book, which came as no surprise as I knew it still needed more edits, but her overall summing up was “I absolutely LOVED this! It was engaging and entertaining throughout…”
Phew! To hear that was sweet music to the ears. I realise it’s Andy saying it, and while I completely trust her judgement and honesty, that’s not the same as a stranger saying it. That test comes next.
The book is halfway through its third edit as I implement all of Andy’s insightful suggestions, and then it’s ready for the next stage – sending it out into the big wide world in search of an agent.
The thought of that absolutely terrifies me.