Writing with input from someone who’s as invested in your work as you are – my first professional reader was my UK agent – is a very different experience to writing alone. You feel a new sense of responsibility: not just to write well, but to write better. There are deadlines. You have to be organised enough and realistic and brave enough to give progress reports.
You who have been writing freely and unconstrainedly for years, to please no-one but yourself, suddenly have an Ideal Reader; someone supportive, encouraging, challenging. Someone else to whom this really matters.
Of course, you try to kick against the concept of the Ideal Reader, knowing that the book needs to be bigger, broader, airier, than an audience of one can allow. But after a little while, you realise you can predict some of your reader’s comments. You try to ignore her voice in your head, and focus on what you think works, on trying to develop your own voice.
Pushing back against her is tiring. Everything takes longer.
You keep going. You send out drafts at midnight on Deadline Day.
You tell yourself that feedback isn’t important; what matters is that you wrote a book. What matters is that you feel you did justice to your characters.
But you bite your nails. You don’t sleep.
Then the notes come back, and somehow there are no surprises: it’s not bad, occasionally it’s good, but you can do better. It’s uneven. The peripheral characters are vague and undefined. The pace is saggy.
So you create another folder on your laptop, and you begin again.
And so it goes – in my case, for eighteen months.
You write and rewrite until you lose any perspective on whether it’s good or not. You write until you can’t remember writing it. You don’t sleep.
You wound, then kill, then eviscerate, your darlings.
You write new scenes you didn’t know you had in you.
And then you meet your agent for a quick coffee in a sunlit café with sticky tables, and she tells you that you’ve finished. That it’s ready to go into the world.
And you walk home barely registering the crowds or the traffic, and everything is bright and new and shocking.
You try to relax. You tell yourself you never expected even to get this far. You try to forget about what might happen next.
And then you’re walking down a London street on a warm September evening, and your phone rings.
“Sit down,” your agent says.
“We have an offer,” she says.
“You’re going to be published.”