LIAN TANNER

Writing advice #3 – be stubborn

May 5th, 2019

Many years ago, I sent the first three chapters of Museum of Thieves to Peter Bishop from Varuna Writers House in the Blue Mountains. By then, I’d been working on the book for about two and a half years, and I was pretty sure I’d nailed it.

So I went to the subsequent meeting with Peter with all sorts of glorious fantasies running through my head. But what they all boiled down to was this: I’d walk into the room, he’d throw his arms wide and say, ‘I love it, Lian. I love it so much that I’ve already spoken to several publishers about it and they are keen to read it.’

Ha.

What he actually said was, ‘Well, I like the title.’

He then went on to say that the first three chapters were pretty boring; I was taking too long to get into the story; the world wasn’t sufficiently developed; the stakes weren’t high enough, etc etc.

I drove home from the meeting in a daze of humiliation, wondering what on earth I was going to do now. Wondering if I should just throw the whole thing out and start again.

But I woke up the next morning thinking, ‘I’ll show him!’ And I started another draft.

Snoopy sitting on his kennel writing a letter to the editor

This is when the guardchains appeared, and the Seven Gods, and Separation Day and the bomb that destroyed the Fugleman’s office and the punishment chains and so much else. It’s when the first three chapters got thrown out the window and replaced by something much more exciting. It’s when the book finally started to take its final form.

All of it driven by the stubborn desire to prove Peter Bishop wrong. (Whereas really, I was proving him right.)

I can’t overstate the importance of stubbornness for a writer. Certainly there’s a place for taking a step away from your manuscript for a little while, and sorting out your ideas. Sometimes, throwing it out and starting again is the right thing to do.

But other times you need to dig in, and say to yourself, ‘I’ll show them.’ And keep going.

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