My 6th December post covered how writing novels was like turning iron ore into a sword. I’d left things at the refining stage, where my sword was still little more than an idea. I struggled to answer the question “What’s your novel about?”

Trying to nail themes down at the start proved frustrating. I’ve only managed through writing the novel, starting with a vague direction in mind and letting the plot and characters find their own path.

Seat-of-the-pantsing the novel gave me a doorstopper manuscript, but also a clearer view of my own opinions. Leaving the manuscript alone for a few weeks let me see the concepts in a new light. Perhaps setting things down several times exercised my mind, maybe having characters talk about my ideas let me think clearly, or time gave the ideas a chance to incubate. The words I’d written sparked off new thoughts, and I saw what the novel was about.

Returning to the novel and re-writing allowed me drop these new ideas in, nudging the plot and characters in new directions, embracing the newly discovered themes.

Just so you know, the novel is about how technology and nature are siblings, and what happens when one is used in place of the other. Other themes have emerged, quests for love, quests for learning, retrofitted onto the foundations provided by the first, seat-of-the-pants edit. I now have a unifying theme, something to get the characters, story and ideas pointing the same way, something to give me an answer to questions about the book’s subject matter.
Writing a first draft is a good way of finding out what a book is about. Editing allows these discoveries to be worked into the text, for the crude metal to be forged into something stronger, finally shaped into something useful. The first draft of anything is s**t, as Hemingway said, but s**t can be a fertiliser.