Monday, 1 June 2009

Treading Softly

Today I am reading the first full-length manuscript of a very close friend. It’s a delicate business. I have to be completely honest of course, but I am also incredibly aware of how much this manuscript means to the person in question; how much work went into it and how raw and naked they feel handing it over to me to comment on.

This is something you tend to forget when you have been writing books with a certain measure of success for a number of years. But it’s important not to forget; at least not if you want to help people, rather than simply trample on them.

I remember the very first time I read my work to an audience. I could hear my own voice as if I were detached from my body. Every word I uttered seemed excruciatingly awful so that I wanted to crawl away and die. That was more than twenty five years ago but the experience is still burned into my memory. Fortunately, when I looked up the audience were smiling. Even so, I wasn’t sure they weren’t just being nice.

The trouble is you get to a point where you have put so much work into a manuscript that you no longer have any idea whether it’s any good or not. This is particularly true when it is your first manuscript. You feel like it’s you soul you’re passing around for other people to sample. I am reminded of the last line of Yeats’ poem, He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven.

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


Paul Lamb said...

I don't envy you your circumstance. My nephew asked me to do the same thing for him, and in the end I sputtered some useless drivel that I'm sure he saw right through.

The fact is, I don't think I'm qualified to analyze anyone's writing but my own.

Brian Keaney said...

You have lots of interesting things to say about writing, Paul. But a nephew is a particularly difficult proposition. I've had a cousin. That was hard. Looking back, I probably didn't do a great job.