This past two weeks has had me glued to the television, watching my favourite tennis stars in action.
I love everything about the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament: the games, the characters, the idiosyncrasies’ of the weather. These are the best athletes in the tennis world and, for a short time, we are lucky enough to be able to watch them daily on our screens. One year I actually got to visit in person and the atmosphere, even in the outside courts, was all encompassing.
The players make it look so easy, dropping those shots right on the line, just in the edge of the court. In reality they practise day in, day out throughout the year, spend time in the gym, on the track, not to mention on that all important court. It’s all those hidden minutes, hours, days and weeks behind the scenes, that makes them shine.
Achieving success at anything contains an awful lot of hard work. A few years ago I read a book review which contained the following words, “…writing so good, I didn’t notice it.” My initial thoughts were – the poor author.
As writers, we agonise over words to convey just the right message, layer our descriptions to build a certain atmosphere, craft phrases to achieve the correct imagery in readers’ minds.
There are those inspired sentences: ones that come to you into the night, those that spring into your mind in the supermarket queue. Lines that need to be scribbled down on the back of old receipts, scraps of paper, backs of hands; caught quickly before they slip away into the deep, dark abyss within our heads.
When my writing tutor cast her red pen across these precious lines, I wanted to wrap my arms around them, my babies to protect. As she whipped them out, I wanted to run to the waste paper basket, uncurl the crumpled pieces, and insert them back into my work.
Instead, I thought about books I have read. I’m a sucker for a good page turner. It got me thinking – how many times do you see ‘spare’ words and phrases in a thriller? The simple answer is never. Why? Because they distract the reader and detract from the story. In point, they can be the difference between a reader loving or hating your book.
As those inspired lines were prised from me, I realised that in the early days I was being self indulgent. I used some prose because I really liked it, not because it either added to, or drove, the story forward. And that is what it is all about – the story. We are here to spin a good yarn.
Penning a novel isn’t about how many words you write, or how much you expand your manuscript. It’s also about how much you take out, the polishing that goes on behind the scenes to make that all important story sparkle. It struck me that a good book derives from an author that, like a tennis player, has sweat buckets to make it work. We just get to hide our damp patches.