August is always a quiet month. Even if you’re in a newsroom this is the month when the “silly season” hits. The courts and politicians are all on holiday and so the news that’s there to be covered can be rather thin on the ground. In terms of general news the silly season hasn’t fully hit…one of the few plus points of a rather nasty recession. If, like me, you work in the courts, however, the shop is well and truly shut from the very start of August until the beginning of October.
Some of the courts still sit – the High Court and the Children’s Court still process cases from time to time as needed. The District court too has a constant stream of miscreants, but I don’t work in any of those courts. My bread and butter is the Central Criminal Court so August and September are extremely quiet as there’s simply nothing doing. People may get murdered, other people may get charged, but the actual murder trials are on hold until term starts in October.
So every summer I have a choice. Either sit at home and twiddle my thumbs for two months or try and find something productive to do. Two years ago I was making trips down to the Mahon Tribunal to take down our former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s testimony. Last year I wrote Devil in the Red Dress. This year it’s an altogether different project.
I’m writing a novel – well to be more exact, I’ve already written the novel but it still needs further editing before it’s in a state I’m happy to send out to publishers. I’ve mentioned it on numerous occasions on this blog but now I’m several weeks into the editing process it’s become more of an obsession and less casual material for this blog.
Editing is far more of a slog than the free flowing drafting that initially creates the story. This is the time when you are chipping away at the raw material and trying to make it into something that’s actually readable. When I’m drafting the words might flow and the plot might spring into place organically (if I’m very, very lucky) but editing is down to the minutiae, the technical nitty, gritty of the writing process.
This is the time when you realise how often you’ve used certain words and phrases and get over your initial blushes to fix the problem. This is when you take out the irrelevant words; the ands, thens, or whiches that can safely be chopped to make a cleaner more fluid sentence.
Because no matter how fluid your writing may feel when you’re drafting, it will always benefit from a strict vetting with a red pen. When you’re in the middle of it it can seem counter intuitive that this sometimes tortuous process can be the thing that frees up a page but that’s how it works. I always liked the analogy of editing being like a sculptor chipping away at his marble until something beautiful emerges.
Of course, you edit with journalism and non fiction as well but it’s a far more perfunctory affair than with fiction. With journalism you are writing in a much more rigid structure so while it can be cleaned up or streamlined, the kind of in depth surgery that a larger piece requires just isn’t necessary.
So I’ve been spending large chunks of every day sitting at my laptop. I left behind the red pen some time ago and now we’re down to the actual physical changing of the words in the manuscript. When it gets to this stage it really becomes an obsession. The manuscript becomes a god, a drug. Every moment you are away from it there is an ache that simply will not stop.
I’ve been working for the past few weeks on a little table in front of my bedroom window. It’s not a perfect setting. I’m used to working at my desk with all my touchstones and paraphernalia that I like to think make me a better writer, or that help the inspiration to flow. Much as I love my desk, it’s in a rather busy place, fine when I’m on my home in the house but not really workable when there are other people in the house and this summer we have a prolonged guest.
So I sit at my little table and look at the trees outside the window. It’s the kind of place I would have picked to work in the past, before deadlines became an issue and publication of any kind was a simple dream. The fact that the internet up here is sporadic at best and there’s no direct light and there’s not even space to put a mug of tea would drive me up the wall if I was writing my usual fare, which is generally fueled by caffeine and online research.
But for this job of editing, which I have promised to finish before the courts go back (after way too many years almost there) my little table is an oasis. A different space that allows me to have the quiet and the concentration to do the chipping away that I must.
Up here, I wouldn’t now a silly season if it beat it’s wings against the window, although I’d probably be momentarily distracted. It’s another world, far away from deadlines, and column inches and the Four Courts. In the end it’s all work but I’m feeling very fortunate this year to spend the summer writing in the bedroom and watching the sunshine and the barbecues going on below.