Returning to Project Snails after four years apart from it is a strange experience. In some ways it feels like returning to one of those other lives we have, in different places with different people, that we occasionally switch between. Time doesn’t seem to have passed, and the life I was living without the novel – as recently as two weeks ago – seems like a dream. “What was that about?” asks my novel, and all I can do is smile self-deprecatingly and shrug. “University? You do do the strangest things sometimes, Alex. Heh! Do-do.” My novel isn’t very mature, you see.
In other ways, though, the passage of time – and, I’d like to think, some small amount of growing up on my part – becomes apparent when I read my past self’s writing. Happily, I seem to have gained at least some of the perspective that I hoped four years, and higher learning, would bring. Or academia has stifled my unique voice and snuffed out my creativity, leaving me tragically blind to my earlier genius. Either way, I can see flaws all over Snails.
There are passages that are clearly more about me being “clever” than about the story or the characters. Analogies are stretched to snapping point as past me tries to force in as many tenuous connections as possible between the literal and the metaphorical. Descriptions and dialogue that could comfortably be simple and straightforward are written in strange, roundabout ways just for the sake of it. There are bits where I as the author am the only person who could hope to guess what a character is really thinking. Some of the “emotional” scenes make me cringe, which generally isn’t the intended effect. There are blatant continuity errors, including character and place names changing from one chapter/sentence to the next. And there is a bit of unexplained weirdness surrounding certain subplots, which I was laying in there for the potential second novel, but which probably hurts the first novel more than is justified, considering it may well be the only novel.
But despite all this, I can’t help feeling there’s something there. Over the years I worked on it, characters developed and rebelled against their original one-dimensional selves, the world was infused with a fair amount of detail and history, and the story became intricate and multi-layered, with themes and subplots woven through it just subtly enough not to distract from the core story. All this work, taking place over multiple, evolving plans and drafts of the novel but now compressed into one draft, reminds me of why I should probably have some faith in my past self: there’s a lot more of him than there is of me.
The trouble is, as much as I love the characters, the world and the story, the writing just doesn’t live up to them.
That’s why I’m afraid of this book. It’s almost hypnotic. I can see the potential in what I have, but I know it’s going to take an insane amount of work to truly realise it. And not just work. It’ll take the sort of emotional investment that I haven’t made in anything for a long time. I’m going to have to think about parts of it until my brain goes numb, then force myself to un-numb it and carry on thinking. I’m going to have to wake up in the night again, terrified that that character’s storyline isn’t believable enough, or that this plot point doesn’t make sense since I changed that other thing. This stuff isn’t optional. Not if I want the novel to be as good as it can possibly be.
I’d forgotten all this. I was in denial for much of my time at university, thinking “These smaller projects are fun, maybe I don’t need to go back to my novel”. Now I realise how wrong I was. I was always going to have to go back, for better or worse. If I don’t, I’ll forever be wondering how it would have turned out. Maybe it’s still just a 12-year-old’s naïve fantasy. But I have to know.
So I’m going to rewrite Project Snails. I’m not going to plunge in straight away, as I’d like to get some of my smaller projects done, or at least further along, before I make it my main focus. But at some point, I feel sure, it’s going to consume me again. I just hope it gets all the nutrients it needs from me to grow into something special, and that I’m still vaguely alive when it spits me out.
See, there’s one of those overstretched analogies I was talking about! Better make sure I edit my novel better than I edit this blog.