Claire King


On the Penrose Staircase

Posted on: September 18th, 2015 by Claire - 8 Comments

There is a time, when all the drafting is done, all the revising and the copy editing, when you are expected to let go of your story and let the readers take over. Many writers have difficulty with this part. Because as we all know, just one last read through a novel not-yet-published might elicit a change or two that could make the book just that bit better.

It’s possible that part of this is simply that we want our work to be the best it can be before we send it out into the world, even though we all know in our hearts that it will never be perfect. And it takes courage to publish something with imperfections when you’re aware that some people will be quick to point them out.

But I’ve also come to the conclusion it’s because we are no longer the person we were when we conceived the book. We have learned things about ourselves and about our writing at every stage of its creation (well, I speak for myself but I suspect it’s true of most authors). Plus we will have been inspired by other books, other stories, all of that life that has happened in the meanwhile. So the writer you are when you finish your book is not necessarily the same writer you were when you started it.

“Ascending and Descending” by Official M. C. Escher website. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

This week, at the tail-end of copy edits, I found myself putting the final, final touches to a novel I started in the Before Time. Before The Night Rainbow was even published and I had no idea if anyone was actually going like that book, never mind my Difficult Second Novel. It seems so long ago now. I mean, I was actually still in my thirties when I wrote the first words of Everything Love Is and I’ve been writing solidly, making mistakes and learning from them for the four years since.

So it felt strange, sending it off for proofs. Perhaps I’ve lived with that novel for so long that some part of me thought it would just stay with me forever, being tweaked and improved as I grow (into myself?) as a writer. And then the image of the Penrose Staircase came to me. The idea that I had reached a point where I could keep on trying to climb upwards with this book but would always end up in the same place.

It makes sense. This is exactly as it was meant to be. My second book is my second book, just as my debut was my debut. Time for 2015-writer-me to take everything I’ve learned and apply it to the writing of number 3.

8 Responses

  1. Love the analogy of the Penrose Staircase… I’m a proofreader for a friend, watching her create her debut and think she’ll very much relate to this. Good luck with No2 & getting the 3rd one underway x

  2. tu says:

    Think this can be applied to so many walks of life, almost the flip side of the idea that we’re rarely “ready” for anything, and we can’t afford to wait till we are? But your writing is wonderful and we’re ready to read it.

  3. Rachael Dunlop says:

    This resonated with me so much. I’ve been working on my book for about three years. I’m different, the characters are different, what I thought I thought about them and their situation is different. I could keep on starting over, writing a book different book every time. But I know this is the version that is right for NOW. Although making everything consistent from beginning to end will be a challenge.

    Very much looking forward to reading your next.

    • Claire says:

      Yes! When I was editing this year I kept finding these little ghosts from ‘how things used to be’ in the novel. A character would say or do something that related to a backstory (never articulated) that had changed a couple of drafts earlier. Uncanny. Good luck smoothing your novel out. Look forward to reading that too 🙂

      • tu says:

        It’s that evolution that makes unpublished work so charming to read, a bit like looking at old paintings that have been overpainted, but which over time have faded to reveal older images beneath.

      • Rachael Dunlop says:

        I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to hear that I’m not the only one leaving bread-crumb trails to nowhere in my WIP. The most daunting part of editing, for me, is being able to spot them and tidy them up in a way that doesn’t create any more false trails. I thought I was ‘doing writing wrong’ because it seemed impossible that I would ever get it really smoothed out. I couldn’t believe any competent writer would make such a mess for themselves! But on reflection, I think it means I’m ‘doing writing right’, because if my writing was all ‘surface’, without layers and texture, there would be none of these echoes and ghosts hooting mournfully between the lines.

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