Solitary writers (are you out there?)

Writers have different habits, different ways to write, and I hope we can politely leave each to our own. It is an exercise in politeness, as I know from myself, because when I hear a friend say, ‘I’m sending out to my beta-readers,’ I want to howl at her, No no no no no. Of course I do no such thing.

Obviously, I don’t use beta-readers. I am the alpha to omega reader of my work, until it’s in a state fit to print. This makes for slow publishing: you need years of perspective on a work, to be an omega reader yourself. So I had my first book in my hands for nine years; I only had beta eyes – or new eyes as I call them – after I’d finished the second and come back. To ask another person for new eyes… no, I cannot contemplate it. They see differently. Only I can see the true road for my book, even if I can’t see yet, even if not for years. Foreign eyes (as I think of them) I fear must hopelessly confuse. Muddy the waters. When I can’t see clearly, the last thing I need is advice in my ears. I have to stare until I see. Or take a hike, come back in a few years’ time with the eyes of a stranger. But my eyes.

One hand writes a novel, that’s my creed. It’s no use to try to shift a belief like that, so I hope we writers can rub along together with our different habits and beliefs.

One hand, one eye to see the right words (did you hear Tolkien creep in? Bugger off, Tolkien. If I’m as crazy as Sauron, let it be so. I can tell you I’ll never change). Where was I? Only the creator’s eye can spot the right word. Other people’s words must be inserts, intrusions, and wrong. Wrong in ways you won’t notice, but you’ve been shifted, if ever so slightly, off your tracks. So if you’ve lost the sense of those tracks, wait. Wait. Wait for years. Others’ input, foreign influence – is your greatest danger.

Now, I can scarcely understate how out of fashion this writing philosophy is. Here I’m in the privacy of my blog; if I essayed to defend this argument in a writers’ public square, I’d be shot down or locked up. But I know I’m not the only one who writes this way – are you out there, solitary writers?

To express my puzzled feelings, crudely, I have a made-up tale of Picasso and the paintbrush. That’s when a bystander looks over his shoulder and says, ‘I don’t think people are going to understand that smudge in the corner. How about you turn that into a cabbage?’ He got a paintbrush through the eye, didn’t he?

It seems to me that written arts are singled out, for the art-by-committee strategy. And I don’t understand why that should be so. Writers have always fought to keep creative control, of course – and lost in general. ‘Go indie’ we urge writers of the past, safely in their graves. Except I’ve met on indie review sites the admittance question, ‘Have you been professionally edited?’ And I can’t tick yes to that box. I can tick, ‘No, piss off. But give me credence. Every word is mine. Every judgement call, my judgement – because no-one else knows what I’m doing with the book, do they? Try it. Call it single malt and have a swig.’

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