In the beginning naivety was the greatest gift. I had no idea how long writing a book would take me, how many drafts I’d complete, how many false starts would become false ideas of failure.
I went along, wrote the words, went along, and then after a time I began to feel the enormity of it all, what it takes to write a book. Sometimes I couldn’t breathe. Many writers will tell you that to write a book is to run a quiet marathon, others a test of character. The only thing I know about writing books is this: you need to be able to sit within yourself day in day out, be able to block out the inevitable hate-noise that will thunder for you, be able to recognise the gold days when they arrive. To write a book you need to accept the repetition of it all and still be able to make something new.
Your book is never going to be the work you have planned in your head. You’ll start writing those first words and from that moment the book adapts to the environment it’s in, adapts to the molecular changes in your own bone structure, muscle fibre. Adapts to your growth as a writer and human.
Since publication I constantly rewrite the novel in my mind, fantasise about new chapters, new plot points, new characters. I rewrite what already exists. A few weeks ago I caught myself digging out an old, half-used notebook from 2015, ready to begin writing a new section for Benjamin, this character I seemingly can’t get enough of. But I stopped myself. The past is the past. I can’t unwrite See What I Have Done. It’s the best book I could write with my abilities at that given time.
The only thing I can do now is write another book, a better book, one that matches the writer I am today, tomorrow, next week, the years until it’s done.
Is See What I Have Done the book I imagined it would be? There is yes, there is no. But it’s as close to the original idea I had…which is something because for a long time it veered in directions I never knew it could go. I mourn the book I lost, the one that came to me in a dream all those years ago. If I’d been able to work faster, would I have saved that version? Instead I took the slow route and created a ‘thing’ I never thought I could or would. It exists, flaws and all. And it’s the version that has allowed me to begin my second novel.
So what might a different version of See What I Have Done look like? Easy. It was once called FALL RIVER and I have a selection of old sections here:
In the beginning Benjamin had the ability to change into other people. I was playing around with identity and duality, inner and outer lives, the ways in which we can fabricate our own stories to suit a narrative. He was many people living inside one body. Does this mean he had multiple personalities? No. For many reasons (perhaps I’ll share them with you at a later time) this version of Benjamin wasn’t working the way I wanted him too and it didn’t fit the story I was building. But the original idea of him appeals to me so much and I hope I can use him again one day, somehow.
Below, Benjamin is in his form as ‘James’ circa 2012. Reading this again for today’s post I can see that quite a bit of this was used in some form in the final version of the book. But it’s also lazy writing.
In the same year I was getting to know Emma, who at the time was a relatively new narrator. I had no idea what to do with her in some parts and so I often wrote her in quick points, just to get something down on the page. Almost a sketch:
And now structure. I found a contents page from the time I submitted to the woman who is now my agent. I’ll let you figure out what changed: